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Matt's Place Drive-In - Butte, MT
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member BK-Hunters
N 45° 59.393 W 112° 32.299
12T E 380863 N 5094073
Quick Description: Montana's oldest Drive-In, Matt's Place got its start in an old mining shack on the south side of Butte.
Location: Montana, United States
Date Posted: 2/9/2018 2:48:56 AM
Waymark Code: WMXPKJ
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member iHam
Views: 0

Long Description:
Borrowing the idea of a Drive-In from ones he had seen in California, Matt Korn, the son of Austrian Immigrant saloon owners, purchased a placer mining claim property from the City of Butte. On the property stood an old shack (or Matt moved a nearby building onto the property) in which he opened Montana's first Drive-In, offering quick meals to the motoring public. Relying on the cleanliness of the establishment and the quality of his food rather than advertising and gaudy signage, as was the case with the California Drive-Ins Matt had seen, Matt's Place, in spite of the onslaught of the Great Depression, was a near instant success. The same philosophy of operation remains in place today.

The fact that it was ideally situated, at the intersection of South Montana Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare in Butte and the east-west U.S. Highway 10, contributed to its success, as well. The success of the business enabled Matt and his new wife, Betty (Kabalin), to erect a new building around the old shack by 1934, complete with upstairs living quarters. In 1936 a counter with eight stools was added, allowing the consumption of Matt's burgers inside the building for the first time.

That same year Mabel Waddell, a high school student, began working for Matt as a carhop. Matt had Mae embroidered on her uniform, resulting in her actually changing her name to Mae. On March 1, 1943, Mae, still working at night for Matt, and her brand new husband, Louis, bought the drive-in from Matt. They spent their honeymoon waiting on customers. Since they couldn't afford a new sign, the name Matt's Place remained. And it remains so to this day. Long a Butte institution, a change in the name today would likely result in rioting in the streets, a circumstance not unfamiliar to the city of Butte, given its history as a gold and copper mining town controlled by wealthy anti labour mine owners.

The Legacy of Matt's Place

Matt's Place was typical of drive-in restaurants in the United States in the late Twenties and early Thirties. Matt Korn imported the idea for the business from southern California, then the site of the most drive-in restaurants in the country. The nature of the business required that it be centralized while making maximum use of the roadside frontage for parking. Matt's was ideally located near the intersection of South Montana Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare in Butte and the east-west U.S. Highway 10, Montana's primary east - west interstate highway. Unlike drive-ins in California, however, Matt's did not rely on extensive signing, singular architecture or advertisement to draw customers. Indeed, it relied on its "sparkling cleanliness, speed and good food" for its success. The existing menu boards show food that was quick to prepare and serve. Like its counterparts in the east, it also served regional favorites, such as barbecue beef and hamburger with egg.

Matt Korn made very good profits, but he was difficult to work for and paid his help low wages. He didn't believe in Christmas, gifts or bonuses, and the carhops had their Christmas gift exchange in secret, drawing names out of each other's pockets on the sly. Nor did Matt believe in gimmicks, and always said that if you see someone giving something away, it's a sure sign he is in trouble. "Never skimp on quality or quantity" was Matt Korn's dictum. He was a product of the Depression era. Mac's last paycheck in 1943, for a six-day week at eight hours a day, was $ 17.50. Matt's Place today is a quintessential example of the revolutionary drive-in restaurants that swept the nation in the late 1920s and 1930s. But unlike the vast chains that today line Harrison Avenue, Matt's Place has no playground, no splashy advertising, and no precooked menu items. Over the years other restaurants have operated nearby, but Matt's Place has outlasted them all, by decades. It is one of Montana's first drive-ins, representing the mom-and-pop operations that once flourished across the nation but that rarely survived the fast food chain invasion of later decades. Matt's Place evolved to its present appearance during its first five years and changed little after 1936. It has been a Butte landmark since that time, and its nostalgic ambiance is indicative of that era.

Mae Laurence, after well over half a century, still takes charge of the kitchen. She insists on ground round, potatoes that have never seen a freezer and plenty of ice cream in her shakes and malts. She keeps a guest book in which over the years visitors from across the country have written heartfelt praise of Matt's Place, known to many as "Mac's Place." Among those who have penned entries is David Scholruk of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who wrote, "Now I know it's not the mountains and lakes that makes Montana special - it's Matt's Place. Thanks for the best!"
From the NRHP Registration Form


Entrepreneur Matt Korn opened a tiny restaurant here in 1930 featuring a drive-in window, an idea he imported from southern California. Matt’s Place was likely Montana’s first drive-in, but unlike its California counterparts, this business never advertised. Good food built its reputation and business boomed. Korn married, added upstairs living quarters, and expanded the drive-in to include curb service. In 1936, high school student Mabel Waddell, who used to visit Korn’s tiny drive-in window as a child, joined the staff of seven carhops. Korn had “Mae” embroidered on her uniform prompting Mabel to change her name. Mae continued to work at Matt’s Place, went to beauty school, graduated, and became engaged to teamster Louis Laurence. When a deal to buy her own shop fell through, Louis and Mae bought Matt’s Place in 1943. They spent their honeymoon waiting on customers. The couple couldn’t afford a new sign, so the name remained. When Louis passed away in 1962, Mae saw to it that her longtime customers didn’t miss a homemade burger or a shake. During better than half a century behind the counter, more than 28 family members have worked for Mae at the drive-in, whose menu hasn’t changed since the 1930s. Matt’s Place won national acclaim for its fabulous made-from-scratch cuisine, vintage equipment, and period furnishings. One gentleman summed it up when he signed Mae’s guest book, “Now I know it’s not the mountains and lakes that makes Montana special – it’s Matt’s Place!”
From the NRHP plaque at the building

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