Loved ones of the late restaurateur Don Coit closed the last of his drive-ins Saturday after a yearlong struggle to reinvent the venerable operation's appeal to younger customers.
The first of the three restaurants opened in 1954 at SW 25 and Western Avenue, and was the first to close earlier this year.
The remaining two locations, at NW 39 and Portland Avenue and NW 50 and Portland Avenue, closed just one year after the family put all three properties up for sale by Paul Ravencraft and Phillip Mazaheri with Price Edwards & Co.
When the listing was first posted, Jesse Coit, widow of founder Don Coit, told The Oklahoman that she and daughter Cosette were hopeful they could keep part of the operation in business.
“They couldn't survive in this environment anymore,” Ravencraft said Monday. “It was too much for them. Jesse Coit wasn't running it, but she was the owner, and family members were trying to help them to survive but couldn't.”
Coit's began with just a root beer stand with no windows, just a shutter board that closed when the day's business was over. Winter business was dismal, and Don Coit was looking for a way to survive the cold weather when an acquaintance at the fire department suggested he sell Christmas trees.
Don Coit traveled west to Washington and east to North Carolina. The family got to know the tree growers, staying at their homes, and before long his business was as well known for its Christmas tree lots as it was for its root beer stand.
The operation grew; the root beer stand ended its affiliation with Webber's and turned into a drive-in and restaurant, and two more drive-ins were opened at NW 39 and Pennsylvania Avenue and at NW 50 and Portland. Don Coit bought more real estate, including the Coit Center shopping plaza across from his NW 50 restaurant.
By the 1980s, the Coit's logo with the Christmas tree atop the “i” became a fixture in town for anyone driving by the restaurants or the large Christmas tree operation opened every winter at the corner of Northwest Expressway and what is now the Lake Hefner Parkway. Classic car enthusiasts, meanwhile, gathered for summertime rallies at the restaurant at NW 39 and Pennsylvania.
The passing of Don Coit in 2005 was always seen as a blow to the drive-ins, Ravencraft said.
“They were doing OK at first,” he said. “But things changed. And in the restaurant business, you always have to keep changing. Johnnie's (another longtime local hamburger chain) has changed — they adapted.”
Now that the last of the drive-ins have closed, Ravencraft is seeing increased interest by potential buyers.
“We've had some offers — we're considering one now for the restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue.”