In April 2020, COVID-19 brought much of Arizona’s economy to a screeching halt. All businesses not deemed “essential” were ordered closed by Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey.
The lockdown continued for nearly two months. When Gov. Ducey finally gave the go ahead to reopen, businesses slowly began the road to recovery. Even those listed as “essential” had a challenge with this economic recovery.
Many small businesses and non-profits in Arizona didn’t survive the lockdown. The businesses that did survive are hanging on as best they can. Copper Area News wanted to give something back to the local business community as a thank you for supporting us through these troubled times. Our newspapers (Copper Basin News, Superior Sun and San Manuel Miner) have been featuring local businesses and non-profits since the beginning of 2021, encouraging our readers to Shop at Home, stay local and support our local businesses. To date, Copper Area News has featured 90 businesses in the Copper Corridor.
Local restaurants faced some of the toughest challenges when the pandemic hit; they were forced to reduce their services to take out only and limit their capacity when they were finally allowed to re-open.
For 60 years, Mel’s drive in has been serving San Manuel. The restaurant, owned by Val Childers, was open for take out during quarantine and remains open during the pandemic. The owner’s granddaughter, Amanda Alvarado, is the manager.
Mel’s began life in San Manuel in June, 1966, as “Weldon’s Drive-In”. The building was built by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was build with the idea that the young people in San Manuel had no place to go in the evenings. It gave them a place to “hang out.” It was also a place to get something good to eat.
Being that it was located across the street from the high school, many students before the days of a closed campus used to eat lunch there. Students went there after school and after athletic games. Opposing teams from out of town often ate there after the games or picked up their food to go.
Weldon’s Drive-In had a pool table and a juke box. The original jukebox can be seen at the Chaparral in Oracle which is owned by the Childers.
In 1967 or 1968 Mel and Val Childers became partners in the business and began managing it. They bought out their partner five years later and changed the name to “Mel’s Drive-In”.
Three generations of the Childers family have worked at Mel’s: Val, her daughter Lisa Langhammer and granddaughter Amanda Alvarado who manages it now. Albertina Zazueta has worked there since 1979 cooking up “the burger we drive back home for” as expressed by Mel’s T-shirts. Many former residents visiting family or friends in San Manuel often stop by Mel’s for a burger while in town.
Mel’s offers a mix of American and Mexican food, one of these being their famous Mel’s burger. They also serve ice cream and the famous “Chilly Willies”.
Mel’s is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. They are located on 50 E. Main St. in San Manuel. You can call in your order at (520) 385-4212.
“Thank you for supporting us through the pandemic,” said Alvarado.
Find yourself craving a burger? Call Mel’s!