Serving up steakburgers and sides of nostalgia since 1947

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Taylor’s Drive-In has been a staple of Springfield’s dining (and social) scene for nearly 70 years. “It’s an icon for Springfield,” says longtime patron Erma Davis. “Oh, it’d break my heart if it closed.”

The year was 1947 when Taylor’s Drive-In opened for business, but the exact date is a mystery. Perhaps it didn’t seem important to write it down. After all, no one knew that the burger stop would evolve into one of Springfield’s longest lasting landmarks.

Now nearly 70 years later, one thing is clear. “If people are coming here, they’re coming here for a reason,” says owner Darlene Collins.

For some, the steakburgers and old-fashioned soda fountain favorites are reason enough. After all, “we still grind the meat every day,” says Darlene. “We still make the malts and shakes out of hard ice cream.”

But when a lifetime can pass in the blink of an eye, maybe some of Taylor’s diners come craving something not listed on the menu.

Perhaps they simply come for a taste of the way things used to be.

The taste of Taylor’s

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Besides burgers, Taylor’s offers drinks that most places don’t. “We add cherry, or vanilla or chocolate or lemon or lime (to drinks),” says owner Darlene Collins. “The fountain area is pretty much like an old-time fountain.”

Lunchtime is bustlingly busy at Taylor’s. Oldies croon from the radio, the atmosphere accented by mouthwatering aromas wafting from the kitchen. It’s a place where everyone is welcome, and everyone comes. Suit-and-tie businessmen savor burgers alongside young couples, sweatshirt-clad customers — and, at least twice a week, sisters Mary Turner and Erma Davis.

“The hamburgers are so good and they’re so reasonable,” touts Erma from one of Taylor’s brown-vinyl booths. “When we retired, we came here every day for a week. That’s how much we like it.”

But the women’s love of Taylor’s isn’t a recent development.

“We’ve been coming here since we were teenagers,” says Mary, now in her 80s. “We started young here, and we grew old here.“

“We’ve been coming here since we were teenagers,” says Mary, now in her 80s. “We started young here, and we grew old here.”

As they speak, their minds travel to another time. A time before they both became teachers. A time before many of the responsibilities of adulthood. A time when the fun was simple, yet simply so much fun.

“(You) would come and circle and meet all your friends here, you know, especially on Friday and Saturday nights,” recalls Erma, who even got acquainted with her future husband in Taylor’s parking lot. “Then he called me the next week and we hooked up and we’ve been married for 50 years!”

Looking back

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Before it was Taylor’s, the building (at left) was home to a cafe called The Polar Bear that opened in the late 1920s. (Photo courtesy of the Springfield-Greene County Library)

Taylor’s parking lot is empty after dark these days, its only visitors the ghosts of memories past. But years ago, it was a happening place — one of several stops on Springfield’s drive-in circuit in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Fisher’s Hi-Boy, the A&W Root Beer Stand, and later, Steak ’n Shake were also regular haunts for sparking teenagers.

“Cars were a much bigger deal for kids than they are now,” says Mike O’Brien, a frequent visitor to local hotspots while attending St. Agnes (now Springfield Catholic) High School in the early ‘60s. “If you had a car, you wanted to show it off so you spent your time driving between Taylor’s and Fisher’s Hi-Boy.”

The view from Taylor’s in the late 1950s. The Skelly station is now a parking lot behind the Shrine Mosque. (Photo courtesy Diana Lee Caffey)

Some of those cars were borrowed from parents, like Mike’s 1961 Plymouth Valiant. Lots of Chevys, Fords and Pontiacs made appearances, too, their radios tuned to the soundtrack of the time. Strains from The Beach Boys, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones spoke to their teenage fans via the airwaves on those starry nights — evenings ripe with opportunity to flirt with a world of firsts.

While food wasn’t the main reason to visit Taylor’s — that was to see and be seen — the classic steakburgers did make an appearance. And for the St. Agnes crowd, the drink of choice was often a Roper — a concoction made from cherry and lemon flavorings and Coca-Cola.

But those things were hardly ever consumed in the restaurant. Instead, they were enjoyed in the cars, which were always backed in so they faced the building. “That’s how you spent your Friday and Saturday nights,” says Mike. “You sat there and watched the cool cars go through.”

Taylor’s as it looked in 1967. (Photo courtesy of the Springfield-Greene County Library)

 A special connection between Taylor’s and yesterday’s youth was one of its original owners, Bob Taylor. But to St. Agnes kids, he was simply known as Coach. It was his expertise on the court that led the basketball team to win the state championship in 1959, and his wise eye that kept players in line at Taylor’s — especially on nights before basketball games.

There was a ritual: Half an hour before Coach Taylor figured players should be in bed, he’d stick his head outside a window at the rear of the restaurant and make a sweep with his eyes. “Two or three cars’ lights would come on and zoom out of the parking lot,” recalls Mike of the simple gesture, one that sent players home for a good night’s sleep.

A new era and new owners

But times change: The Taylors decided to get out of the business in the early 1970s, and sold out to Bill and Mary Geirke. However, after only three years, the Geirkes were looking to call it quits as well.

That’s when Darlene and her husband, Jack, came into the picture.

Darlene still remembers the first time she visited Taylor’s 37 years ago. She stopped by because she and Jack were looking for a business to buy: They’d escaped to Springfield from Iowa’s harsh winters, and thought Taylor’s might fit the bill.

That first meal made a good impression on Darlene. She even remembers where she sat that day — it was “about the second booth down from the door,” she says — with her young son, Gary.  But there were a couple of things about the experience that surprised her.

“When my husband came home that night, I said, ‘…You’re not going to believe it. They put their money and their tickets in a bread tin and they have no French fries,’” recalls Darlene.

But they were sold, and not even a desire to avoid the food industry could keep them away. “We thought we wanted to get away from (restaurants),” says Darlene, noting they’d owned a restaurant and catering company in Iowa. “But when that’s the business you know, that’s the business you know.”

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Taylor’s “old fashion” steakburgers are served up weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

That previous experience taught the couple a few things. “We’d been in it (long enough) to know that you don’t go in and make a lot of changes,” says Darlene.

As a result, all they did initially was install a cash register and a deep fryer. Gradually, the couple also added a variety of sandwiches, and thanks to the new deep fryer, things like onion rings, pork tenderloins and bacon dogs appeared on the menu.

Another speciality is the “burger with the ham on it,” which Darlene created while working in the restaurant’s kitchen. “(That’s) my favorite and it’s on the menu because I ate it,” says Darlene. “We sell a lot of those, by the way.”

When Jack and Darlene bought Taylor’s, they still had a carhop and were regularly open until 10 p.m. Two years after they took over, they expanded by purchasing the aforementioned A&W Root Beer Stand on south Glenstone Avenue, which they owned until 1986. “My husband worked here and I worked that one,” recalls Darlene. “We ground all meat here and then he’d bring the meat over there.”

Other things were different, too. “In those days, (students) could come over here for lunch,” says Darlene. “Now they wouldn’t let them leave the school for lunch for nothing.”

And then there was the downtown business climate. “Sears was still there when we moved here,” says Darlene. “(There was) Thompson’s. There was a limo shop across the street.”

As those businesses began to exit, the future seemed uncertain. The Collins even considered selling Taylor’s in 1986, but ultimately adapted to survive. “When there wasn’t much down here, we just started closing (after lunch),” says Darlene.

Taylor’s today…

These days, the lunch folks still come — and memories are still made. That’s proven by Juanita Bridges, another of the day’s diners whose treks to Taylor’s began in the 1950s. “It’s just like a trip down memory lane to come in,” says Juanita as she finishes up lunch with her daughter. Some of those memories, however, aren’t just hers — they’re her family’s as well. “We brought our grandkids to have their first hamburger at Taylor’s,” she says.

While Darlene is ultimately responsible for keeping that memory-making going, there are other people behind the scenes having an impact as well. “Everybody’s been here forever,” says Darlene of her employees, all who have worked at Taylor’s for at least 10 years. “It’s a culture. I know when I get up in the morning that everybody’s going to be here. I don’t worry about them not showing up.”


June Salvador has worked at Taylor’s ever since her former employer — local landmark Hamby’s Steak House — closed. “I love it,” says June. “I love the old places.”

One of those employees is June Salvador, Taylor’s mainstay server who remembers patrons’ orders without them saying a word. But June is more than a Taylor’s fixture: She’s worked her way through three of Springfield’s longtime eateries, closing the other two.

“I told Darlene when she hired me that I didn’t have any references,” says June, who has spent her life working in downtown Springfield. “I’ve closed every other place I’ve worked.”


It’s nearly impossible to catch a photo of June that’s not blurry. She’s just that fast.

June talks as she works: Right now, that’s prepping salads. In a second, it’ll be taking an order, or bringing glasses of ice water to customers just through the door. She flies their orders back up to the kitchen, pinning the ticket on a clothespin for the cooks — and rattles off the order in a code that only the highly experienced could remember or understand. And even in this computerized, technological world, that’s perfectly fine with her. “I want the ticket with the clothes pin,” she says. “I like it that way.”

…and tomorrow

Darlene used to be in the back, but she doesn’t do that these days.  Now she sits in one of the booths, ringing up the customers who come back time and again. She talks with pride of her 16-year-old grandson Patrick, who “takes very good care of his grandma,” she says. “And probably, family-wise, he’d be the only one that would be interested in doing this. But without him, the last couple of years I wouldn’t have made it.”

The last few years have indeed been hectic for Darlene. After an extended illness, Jack passed away in 2012. Then, in 2014, a series of surgeries and injuries pulled Darlene from Taylor’s to convalesce. But it was that time out of the restaurant that showed her she wasn’t ready to quit.

“I’m 75 years old and you’d think I’d be tired of this already, wouldn’t you?” says Darlene with a laugh.

But she’s not. “I like the business and I like being here,” she says. “If my health holds out, I’ll probably be here until I can’t be here anymore.”

Want to visit?

Taylor’s Drive-In (139 Memorial Plaza, Springfield) is open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The restaurant can be reached at 417-862-3278. Be sure to bring cash — no plastic is accepted.

3 thoughts on “Serving up steakburgers and sides of nostalgia since 1947

  1. I’ll bet you will have hundreds of comments like this one!! This was one of our ‘date’ places. Then after the wedding, it was a ‘lunch’ place. We would sit in the car many a day and eat your delicious food and listen to Paul Harvey at noon. Loved reading this article!

  2. Gradutated from St. Agnes in 1961. We all practically lived at Taylor’s after school hours.
    I remember when one of the guys wrote in my Lamb (yearbook) To the girl I would most like to go over the hill at Taylor’s with. ………LOL, Never did figure out if that was an insult or a compliment.

    Thanks for posting this. Lots of memories came flowing back.

  3. This was my first job in 1958.I worked in back at the soda fountain.I think “Ropers” were cherry lemon cokes.I could be wrong ,I made a lot of them.Bob and Hob Taylor were brothers and they both worked there and also both of their wives,Ruth and June, helped out .They were very nice people. My one memory from there is that we did not seat black customers in the dining room back then.They were given their orders in a go bag.I think this happened everywhere in our area at that time.

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