(This article was first published in the 2015 summer issue of KANSAS!)
While the drive-in may be making a comeback, Bobo’s in Topeka has stood the test of time, never going out of style.
“I’ve waited on generations of customers,” says longtime Bobo’s waitress Linda Gode. “Kids I waited on are now parents bringing in their kids. Grandparents bring in their grandchildren. I like working here mainly because of the respect and roots the restaurant has with the customers. I love the traditions and that it’s staying that way.”
At Bobo’s, the steak burger still reigns supreme and onion rings sizzle for hungry patrons. Apple pie and malts grease up the hands of little kids, and the Spanish sauce is ever-ready to top a burger or serve as a dip for a handful of fries.
Topeka residents Richard and Tricia Marsh were regular Bobo’s customers, Tricia always ordering the double cheeseburger, onion rings and strawberry shake. In 2007, the couple was looking for a business where they could work together. When they learned Bobo’s was for sale, they jumped at the chance, regardless of the fact that they had never owned a restaurant.
“I wanted it,” Tricia says with a grin. “Just think—unlimited double cheeseburgers and strawberry shakes!”
Since Bobo’s first opened more than six decades ago, the Marshes are only the drive-in’s third owners. “I take a lot of pride in the fact that we are still here. We try really hard to reproduce everything as it was in 1948,” Tricia says.
“It’s like being a curator at a museum,” adds Richard. “We’re protecting peoples’ memories.”
The restaurant remains largely unchanged from the way it looked over 60 years ago. The menu hasn’t changed much, either. Customers can still order a steak burger, pork tender sandwich, apple pie, and chili just as patrons did in 1953. (The original menu boards and stools are part of the Kansas Museum of History’s collection.)
Bobo’s is best known for its steak burger and hand-cut onion rings. The Spanish burger is also popular, made with a secret sauce that many customers order on the side for their fish sandwich or for dipping French fries, onion rings, and chicken tenders.
Of course, the apple pie comes with its own fame, having been made by Jovita Mendoza for more than 30 years; and the Satin Freeze ice cream has been around from the beginning.
Top Secret … Recipe
After the Marshes bought the restaurant, they received a plastic Ziploc with the old recipe cards inside. While employees make the steakburgers, fry the onion rings and bake the apple pies, Richard is the only one who mixes up the pie spices and makes the chili and Spanish sauce.
Even the Food Network couldn’t get the recipes. When Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives called in 2008 for information on the restaurant, Richard thought it was a prank, and he became even more protective of the recipes. When Guy Fieri showed up to tape the episode, he did the entire show without discovering Bobo’s recipe secrets.
“We make everything from scratch,” Tricia says. “We ball up the burger meat by hand, slice the cheese, and core the apples for the apple pie. Even the root beer is homemade. Sometimes the onion rings will be thicker or thinner because the onions are cut by hand. It’s totally done old-school.”
Occasionally something new gets added to the menu, such as the seasoned kettle chips, chicken tenders with gravy, or cherry pie. However, Richard and Tricia don’t want to change things too much. They take pride in the restaurant’s ability to hold on to the past.
For Tricia, when the lifeguards from Blaisdell Pool in Gage Park come in after work smelling like suntan lotion, she can almost hear the music playing from back in the restaurant’s early days.
“We’ve never claimed to be the best,” Tricia says. “But we’ve done our best to preserve this place that Topeka has loved for years.”
Recipe: Bobo's Shake or Malt (featured along with the article)