By Tiffany Cunningham
Snow White Drive-In, a Lebanon tradition for over six decades, has been “the place to be” for many locals, for going on two generations. Many still fondly remember spending their teenage years cruising through the parking lot, while others reminisce about their parents taking them there for ice cream and milk shakes. Today, these same adults are taking the grandkids to Snow White and it looks like that tradition is here to stay.
Earlier this year the iconic diner was in jeopardy as a gas station was in negotiations to purchase the land from the owner. However, just recently, Snow White owner, Billy Wyatt, received word that, for now, that isn’t going to happen. With much relief of the owners, staff and patrons this means business as usual and the signing of a new lease for Snow White.
Snow White was built in 1951, by Wesley and Myrtle Vantrease. Jerry Vantrease, their son, remembers that the first order his parent’s business ever received was when “I was running the curb service myself; the order was for four hamburgers, four orders of French fries and four Cokes. It was $2.12. They almost went nuts. They thought that was high.” After the Vantrease family, Lindell Poitevint, a retired Air Force Sargent known for cleanliness and running the joint with his military training in mind became the owner. After which Don Hall leased the restaurant in the 1970’s, then Glen Taylor, before local businessman Jimmy Reed purchased it in 1979. He owned the property for more than a quarter of century until late 2008. There were one or two more short term property owners in the mix until the latest owner, Greg Dugdale. He continues to lease Snow White to Billy Wyatt’s family. Between Ann Birdwell, Edie Oats and Billy, Snow White has been in his family almost 20 years.
Reed noted he didn’t change a thing when he purchased Snow White in ’79. “Ran it just like it was. It made money the first day. It still looks like the 1950s, and so many people have gone down there and dated, drove around. People would come in and act like they had known me their whole life. And the kids I served, who were once babies are now grown, married and bringing their own kids. Reed notes, “It was good to me. I worked hard, and I helped a lot of young kids with their first job.”
Before she passed away, Ann Birdwell spoke fondly about her days at Snow White, considering many of the patrons to be family, Ann worked for Reed for many years before owning the restaurant herself and before selling it to her daughter, Edie. It was evident that the patrons loved Ann as much as she loved them, packing in the entire Drive-In and parking lot for her Celebration of Life party in 2013.
Keeping with the Drive-In’s 50’s theme nothing has changed with Wyatt’s ownership. Billy remarked, “We get people in everyday that had their first date here and they’ve got there grandkids with them now. It holds a lot of memories for a lot of people”. It was evident how many people care about the drive-in with the outpouring of support during the past few months but especially with the announcement they would not have to relocate. The Drive- In’s Facebook page received over 16,000 views and 600 likes with 147 comments. Billy posted, “Myself, my wife Kathy, our family and the Snow White family thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for all the support y’all showed during this crazy time we’ve been going through” The 50’s diner has held true to its family oriented roots and serves as a part of Lebanon history. It is also a source of notoriety for the community. Several movie scenes and commercials have been shot at Snow White. Wyatt joked, “If this old building had been torn down I would have to have it posted in the local obituaries”.
Currently, Snow White features cruise-ins where vintage cars are showcased on weekends through the summer. Billy says of the big announcement its back to business as usual. “Y’all come on down, we need to celebrate, I’m one happy camper”.