History of the Triple XXX

1999 photo courtesy of XXX Drive-In

July 1999 photo by David Bangs of Owner José Enciso next to a vintage soda dispensing barrel that was used at the original XXX Drive-In in Renton. The barrel had one spigot for plain soda, and separate spigots to add the Coca-Cola or Root Beer flavored syrups.

2013 Jose serving car show participant


The first drive-in restaurant in the Pacific Northwest was established in 1930 in Renton by A.H. Rutherford. The combination of Triple XXX Root Beer and food turned out to be a great idea which spread nationwide. Of all the XXXs that ever graced our country's landscape, Issaquah's is the only one left which sports the traditional barrel. Another Triple XXX still thrives in Lafayette, Indiana.

Issaquah's original XXX Restaurant was located on Sunset Way near the location of Flintoft's Funeral Home. That restaurant, which was known by locals as "The Barrel", operated until the 1950's when the location was needed for a car dealer's parking lot. Today's XXX Root Beer Drive-In opened in 1968 at its current location.

The restaurant serves up 1950's style hamburgers and dairy concoctions in large serving sizes, and is proud to host frequent gatherings of vintage automobile and motorcycle enthusiasts.

Now a family-owned business, the restaurant was purchased in March 1999 by Jose Enciso and his wife. Originally from Mexico, Jose has worked in restaurants since he was a young teenager.  He takes special pride in owning and improving such a visible Issaquah landmark and says, "XXX may not be the oldest historic building in Issaquah, but it's probably the one which is most visited and enjoyed."
Photo circa 1950, courtesy of Olga Goben

I Linda Goben and her doll are pictured in front of the Issaquah's original XXX Restaurant, which was constructed in the 30s or 40s on East Mill Street (now Sunset Way) near Flintoft's Funeral Home. When the restaurant closed in the 50s, this building was moved to Maple Valley.

All About the Triple XXX

Many Drive-In aficionados are familiar with the Triple XXX on Gilman Boulevard near the intersection with Front Street. They know about its jaw-stretching monster burgers, icy mugs of root beer, and straw-bending shakes. They know about its 1950s and 60s pop music provided by table-side mini-jukeboxes and its cherry-red and creamy white booths. They have witnessed the army of gleaming classic cars and trucks parked outside on weekend Summer nights.

But do they know that:

  • The Issaquah Triple XXX is one of only two Triple XXX drive-ins still operating anywhere (the other is in West Lafayette, Indiana)?
  • The barrel sign above the Triple XXX is the largest lighted Plexiglas sign in the West? Even more important, do they know that the history of the Triple XXX Root Beer began well over a century ago?

In 1930 a local Archie Rutherford opened the first Triple XXX Root Beer restaurant in nearby Renton.  Along with his sons Joel and Jerry, Archie traded on his initial success by opening a chain of restaurants throughout the Pacific Northwest during the late 1930's and early 40's.  During this period, Dave Morgan opened Issaquah's first Triple XXX on East Mill Street (now Sunset Way). The Triple XXX was closed during World War II, but reopened in 1945. During the late 1950s business declined and Ted Stonebridge, owner of Stonebridge Chevrolet, bought the Triple XXX and demolished it to build a car lot.

Fast forward to 1968, when today's Gilman Boulevard was still Highway 10, the primary route from Seattle to eastern Washington over Snoqualmie Pass. In that year, Jay Noel built the present Triple XXX on that route for its first owners, Dick Gilbert and John Wirtz.

In 1983 Norm Lipkin bought the Triple XXX from Dick Kadyk, the second owner. In 1996 he added a soda fountain counter and brought back the old menu of the Triple XXX chain. To make ends meet, he abolished the outside stalls where customers could drive up and order from carhops, and converted the space into an office building. Norm had already begun the practice of inviting vintage car owners to show the results of their restoration skills in the Triple XXX lot.

The restaurant hasn't changed much since then, save for the addition of a lot of '50s and '60s memorabilia such as old radios, soft-drink bottles, license plates, posters of rock-'n-rollers and movie stars by Jose Enciso, who began leasing the Triple XXX from Norm in 1999. Jose and family members, along with other employees, deliver a friendly and informal hospitality reminiscent of the drive-in days at their peak in the 1950s.

Today Jose gets his Triple XXX syrup from the Coca-Cola Company. Sadly, most Triple XXX restaurants eventually gave way to the onslaught of fast-food outlets.

There you have it  a brief tour of the history behind Issaquah's own Triple XXX restaurant  long recognized as a community landmark. All that's left to make your trip back in time complete is to drive over to 98 N.E. Gilman Boulevard, say hello to Jose, and indulge yourself in old style root beer, golden oldies and memories of days gone by.

Footnote: One other XXX restaurant is known to exists in Lafayette, IN.  This restaurant shares a common history with Issaquah's, but no longer is affiliated in any way.

Portions of the foregoing were originally written by David Miller & Sue Cameron and appeared in Issaquah's  Past Times Autumn 2004 with Erica Maniez, Issaquah Historical Society Museum Director