Buildings & Sites
XXX Root Beer Drive-In
(Pronounced "Triple X")
XXX Root Beer Drive-In: 98 NE Gilman Blvd, (425) 392-1266. See
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
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
José Enciso and his grown
children. Originally from Mexico, Enciso 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
Photo circa 1950, courtesy of
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. The building still stands
in a lot off Highway 169 across from Cedar Grove Road S.E.
And You Thought You Knew
All About the Triple XXX
By David Miller & Sue Cameron / Past Times Autumn 2004
with Erica Maniez, Issaquah Historical Society Museum Director
Almost everyone in Issaquah is 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 1950’s and 60’s pop music – provided by
table-side mini-jukeboxes – and its cherry-red and creamy white booths.
They’ve witnessed the army of gleaming “Rod-tiques” 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?
▪ CNN recently filmed the Triple XXX for a TV special on the Top 10
Most Fun and Entertaining 1950’s diners in America? (It’s true, although
it’s not yet known when the spot will show.)
Triple XXX Root Beer was chosen the 4th-best root beer in the nation by
Luke’s Root Beer Reviews, as publicized in a national magazine?
Even more important, do they know that the history of the Triple XXX Root
Beer began well over a century ago?
According to the Triple XXX Family Restaurant website at
www.triplexxxfamilyrestaurant.com, “in 1895, the Anheuser-Busch
Brewing Association of St. Louis, together with local investors,
established the Galveston (Texas) Brewing Company… The brewery had an
annual production capacity of 100,000 barrels of beer which it sold
locally under the name ‘Hi Grade.’ Interestingly, its keg beer was
packaged in steel-banded barrels of oak which were marked with the ‘XXX.’”
Sometime between 1900 and 1908, the Galveston Brewing Company began to
produce and sell a line of soft-drink syrups under the brand name “XXX.”
In 1918, with the advent of Prohibition, the company changed its name to
Southern Beverage Company and converted its brewing equipment to producing
only soft drinks, primarily ginger ale and root beer. By 1923, Southern
Beverage Company’s licensed distributors included about 150 Triple XXX
bottlers and approximately 100 Triple XXX “thirst stations” throughout the
Southeast, the Southwest, and the Northwest as far as British Columbia.
Leave it to an enterprising Washingtonian – a local, actually – to add
food to drink. In 1930 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 1930s and early 40s.
During this period, Dave Morgan opened Issaquah’s first Triple XXX on East
Mill Street (now Sunset Way). June Day Sandberg remembers: “Before the war
we always went to Dave Morgan’s Little Barrel way up Sunset close to
Flintoft’s. Depression time – if we’d bring our own bananas he’d make us
splits! We loved it as kids.”
The Triple XXX was closed during World War II, but reopened in 1945.
“I worked at the first XXX on Sunset next door to Stonebridge Chevrolet,”
recalls Phyllis “Fifi” Krumbah Laughlin. “It was a great place because
everyone came by for something! Burger, cokes, root beer, or fries.
Drive-ins were starting up and the owner wanted me to work outside. When
someone drove into the lot, I was supposed to run outside and ask if they
wanted to eat in their car. The trouble was the windows were so small it
was hard to see people drive up.”
During the late 1950s business declined. Ted Stonebridge, owner of
Stonebridge Chevrolet, bought the Triple XXX and demolished it to build a
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 José
Enciso, who began leasing the Triple XXX from Norm in 1999. José and
family members, along with other employees, deliver a friendly and
informal hospitality reminiscent of the drive-in days at their peak in the
The company behind the root beer has suffered a lot of changes. First the
Galveston Brewing Company experienced a series of sales and name changes,
eventually becoming the Triple XXX Corporation. Then in 1960, after the
Food and Drug Administration ruled that sassafras (oil of saffron) was a
suspected carcinogen, the Triple XXX Corporation scrambled to find a
substitute with the flavor and foamy head characteristic of draft root
beer, which the company was eventually able to do. Consolidation in the
soft drink industry cut off many of the Triple XXX’s traditional
direct-store delivery channels, and in 1985 production of bottled and
canned Triple XXX Root Beer was suspended.
Today José gets his Triple XXX* syrup from the Coca-Cola Company which is
honoring a contract made when Triple XXX drive-ins graced many a small
town. 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 José, and indulge yourself in
old-style root beer, golden oldies and memories of days gone by.
* 12/3/2008: To clarify, the Triple XXX here in
Issaquah buys its root beer syrup from Coca-Cola. The Triple XXX Family
Restaurant in Lafayette, IN is unique in that it uses the original Triple XXX
syrup, and owns the trademark to the Triple XXX name as well.
Other XXX Restaurants
One other XXX restaurant is known to exist In Lafayette, Indiana. This
restaurant shares a common history with Issaquah's, but is no longer affiliated
in any way.