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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Monte's Drive-In on Summer

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 11:24 AM

Everyone who remembers Monte's — a popular hangout on Summer — may get confused when they see old photos of the building, because there were actually two Monte's.

The original (shown here) was a tiny, 28-seat drive-in, which opened in 1937 at 3053 Summer, just across the streem from Leahy's Tourist Court (now Trailer Park). Then, in the early 1970s, a second and much larger Monte's — this one with 250 seats, a private dining room, and even an outdoor garden, opened farther east, at the corner of Summer and Isabel.

Both eateries, as you probably gathered, were owned and operated by a fellow named Monte Robinson. He got his start in the restaurant business by buying and operating the old Skillet Restaurant across the street from The Peabody. It was slow-going at first, but he made a success of it, and even purchased two other Skillet restaurant, one near the Hotel Claridge, another close to the Hotel Gayoso, along with the old Shanty Cafe on Court Square.

Then Robinson got the idea of going into the catering business, and that operation soon overwhelmed his restaurants. Monte & Sons Catering began to prepare events held at Ellis Auditorium, company picnics at Ellendale, and many other public functions. At one time, his company served more than 50,000 people at a Billy Graham crusade at the fairgrounds.

Gosh, even the Lauderdale reunions rarely draw so many hungry people.

Then he got involved in even larger ventures. In 1956, he landed the food-service contract for the U.S. government "processing centers," as they were called, which were set up to feed Mexican laborers working the farms in Texas, Arizona, and California. This project involved cooking and distributing some 200,000 meals a day!

It's no wonder that Robinson was once named Restaurateur of the Year by the Tennessee Restaurant Association. But all good things come to an end, of course. Monte Robinson died in 1992. The original Monte's Drive-In was demolished to make way for a car wash. The second Monte's became the Montclair Restaurant in the 1970s. It is now — of all things — a funeral home.


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