By Ray Dyer
El Reno Tribune
EL RENO – Eric Hughes was talking with his good friend, Adam Hall.
The pair were discussing what should be done with the property Hall had just purchased from the family of the late Cliff Johnson.
In El Reno, the asphalt-covered lot with the 1960s-looking diner along Sunset Drive is known as Jobe’s Drive-In. At least it was until 2015 when Johnson bought it at auction after longtime owner Robert Sanders decided to retire from the restaurant business.
Johnson kept the look of the original Jobe’s but opted to sell antiques and western novelty items out of it.
The property was well-kept, but it was different. It wasn’t a drive-in, a place where for more than 40 years high school kids as well as adults pulled in for the locally famous charburgers and cheese tots.
This conversation between Hughes and Hall was off and on again for several weeks until one afternoon, Hughes told Hall he’d like to reopen Jobe’s as a restaurant.
Hall had already had several ideas tossed his way as what to do with El Reno’s most historic drive in. One suggestion was to make it a cigar shop. Another proposed a gift shop and still a third, this one offered by Hall’s wife, Carmen, was to open a bookstore.
But Hall loves the history of El Reno and especially its burger joints. He grew up working with his dad, Marty Hall at Sid’s Diner and eventually taking over ownership of the well-known and colorful fried onion burger operation that rests on the corner and Wade and Choctaw.
When Hughes said he wanted to lease the building from Hall and reopen it as a restaurant, Hall had one response.
“Let’s go see what Robert thinks.”
Robert as in Sanders, the El Reno restaurant fixture who bought Jobe’s in 1969, about 10 years after it first opened, and operated it until it closed in 2015.
Sanders had owned and operated other burger joints and diners in El Reno, Chickasha and Shawnee before hanging up his apron.
He’s pledged to help Hughes learn the ins and outs of the drive-in business since this will be the 51-year-old Hughes’ first foray into the food industry.
Hughes owns and operates Home Saver Construction. It’s a remodeling and renovation business with a skill set that will lend itself well to the total renovation Hughes is undertaking inside Jobe’s Drive-In.
When complete, Hughes said the diner will offer patrons a place to eat inside as well as a drive-thru window that will be added.
Eventually, he plans to bring back car hop service, although technology may mean customers order using their phones rather than the speakers that once adorned the parking lot.
Hughes is still working on the menu for the restaurant. He would like to have items similar to the original Jobe’s, but even if that happens, he said there would be some new twists added to the menu.
Hall predicts with the renewed focus on historic Route 66, the reopened Jobe’s can once again become a “destination” place in El Reno and beyond.
Both Hall and Hughes said they would like to see the city of El Reno push through with a proposal to revitalize Sunset Drive.
The plan, created by the University of Oklahoma in partnership with Oklahoma City architect Michael Hoefler, would transform the road into a more aesthetically pleasing boulevard for motorists as well as making the area more business and pedestrian friendly.
“This is going to help bring more life to Sunset Drive, this part of town,” Hall said, referring to plans to reopen Jobe’s.
Hughes said the plan is to have the drive-in opened by A Small Town Weekend the first weekend in June.
Celebrating Route 66 and America’s love of classic cars would probably be a fitting way to reopen an iconic El Reno drive-in.