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By Cheryl Thurston 

Bladen County Beautiful Magazine is celebrating the past, present and future. This area has a rich history of supporting local business and bringing people together. Some of the folks around here have brought their dreams to fruition while providing a valuable service to the community, like Melvin’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs Restaurant. They are celebrating 80 years in the same location in 2018.

Melvin’s opened in 1938 as a Pool Room with a grill. Just as the nation was coming out of the Great Depression, the Melvin family got together and created a spot where local people could come to shoot pool, or just the breeze, and munch on some southern comfort food. It quickly became a social gathering place, right up town in Elizabethtown. I can imagine what it was like back then, when the tradition of the day included a lot of walking and men always wore hats.

The three Melvin brothers had a great idea; give people a nice place to go and something fun to do, and don’t rush them off. A Pool Room was the kind of place to talk about the news of the day and see if you could beat the tar out of your best buddy in a friendly game of skill. (It’s very North Carolinian to beat the tar out of someone.) So Melvin’s opened with 4 pool tables stretched along the wall, and short order cooking just a few steps away. There is no denying that the location was a part of their success, during a time when people thought in terms of “walking distance” and there were no cell phones or Facebook to chat with friends, Melvin’s was the place to go.

In 1972, Pat Melvin, (second generation owner) replaced the pool tables with booths so people could sit and talk while eating the already famous, hamburgers and hot dogs that people seemed to enjoy more than shooting pool. Sure lots of people still called it the “Pool Room” for years after the booths were put in place, because it had achieved “landmark status” but people flocked there by the dozens for the food. Lines full of hungry customers stretched from one end of the building to the other, and still do. But a long line at Melvin’s means only one thing; great minds think alike. Things may have changed in Elizabethtown over the decades, but Melvin’s has remained the ever-ready quick lunch spot, Monday through Saturday.

Melvin’s offers Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, Hot Dogs, Chips, Cookies and drinks. A true North Carolina burger restaurant, you cannot get lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on your burger. At Melvin’s there is no burger, (or cheeseburger) but the Carolina Burger, which is topped with slaw, chili, mustard and onions. You can have your burger or hot dog anyway you like, but there is no lettuce, tomato or mayonnaise on offer. Would you like some ketchup? They have that.

The staff at Melvin’s has food service down to a science. They are kind of fast, I mean, kind and fast. They’ll take your order with a smile, and call you by your name if you’re a regular, all while moving fast to do their jobs, cause they know you are hungry. It’s almost unheard of for you to have to wait a minute for your order to be handed to you, hot and ready to eat. The custom at Melvin’s is not to sit down until you have your order in hand, and the diners are very considerate of one another. There always seems to be a booth opening up just as you are ready to sit down.

No longer owned by the Melvin family, the restaurant was bought by Randy Harris in 2004, but you couldn’t tell it by the operation. Every thing seems the same. Harris knew Melvin’s was a good thing so he stayed with the original model. Maybe he is one of those people whose fondest memories of childhood included summers spent at White Lake, and hanging out with friends at Melvin’s. Those people still tell stories of the burgers they ate there years ago.

It seems logical to expect some increased tourism this summer in Bladen County, as Melvin’s celebrates 80 years in business. After all, 34 years as the local pool room, and 46 years since then as the always reliable restaurant, that’s something people don’t easily forget. Melvin’s has enjoyed an illustrious past. Today the very mention of the name conjures up delightful memories that make the mouth water. Hopefully, 80 years from now, people in these parts will still be enjoying Melvin’s Burgers and Dogs. If so, the tile floor will likely be the same. Maybe I’ll see you there. Bon Appitité.

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