Long before McDonald's started selling its Big Mac all around the world, the original Big Mac burger was served at a Mountain View drive-in called Johnny Mac's.
That's how Vivian Shatz remembers it, and she was a carhop there for seven years in the late 1940s and early '50s. The burger wasn't the main thing luring teens to Johnny Mac's, she said -- it was simply the place to be. Cars would fill the parking lot and spill out onto El Camino Real as carhops busily took orders and brought out trays of food.
"It was the place to go, the place to take your girlfriends," Shatz said. It was especially popular after teens left the drive-in movie theater on Grant Road, behind the current Walgreens on El Camino.
Today, the Johnny Mac's building stands empty on El Camino near Mountain View Avenue, an aging link to the past. A dry cleaner called Camaro Cleaners was the last tenant, but the space has been left empty over the last year. Building owner Kirk Richards, who also owns the Napa Auto Parts next door, says he gets regular calls from prospective tenants, like the guy who wanted to turn it into a hot dog stand. Richards said he had no idea of its history before the Voice called about it.
Another old timer, Eugene Sharp, says Johnny Mac's was one of three places to go as a teen in late 1940s Mountain View, with the others being the movie theater and the "Eagles Shack" dances Saturday nights at the Adobe Building.
The restaurant took its name from Johnny MacLane, one of its three owners. In homage to his Scottish heritage, the carhops' uniforms were dark green with sections of green plaid and gold trim, Shatz said. The cover of the menu has a picture of a cartoonish Johnny Mac figure in Scottish garb. The menu features burgers and shakes for 25 cents.
"It was just a fun time to be around in Mountain View," Shatz said. "The police would come in and you could give them a free cup of coffee. You can't do that now, it would be bribery." (Shatz was married to Robert K. Shatz, a former police chief and mayor who died in 1997. The police and fire building on Villa Street is named after him.)
MacLane's business partners were his brother in law, Bill Clark, and Clark's best friend from World War II, Frank "Hoppie" Hopkins, who handled the accounting side, Shatz said. The trio had opened a Johnny Mac's shortly beforehand in Redwood City and went on to open the Burger Barn restaurants in San Jose, one of which still stands on Forest Avenue. MacLane died of a heart attack after that, but the others went on to start the Burger Pit chain as well.
Mountain View's Johnny Mac's would become "Big Mac's" in the 1960s, said Mike Carroll, an artist whose stepfather owned it then. Carroll's rendering of what Johnny Mac's once looked like is on display in the Mountain View library.
"It was very much a part of the car culture," Carroll said about Johnny Mac's.
Later there was also Linda's drive-in at Escuela Avenue and El Camino Real, known to this day for its special hamburger sauce, but there was never anything like Johnny Mac's again in Mountain View, Shatz said.
The former drive-in is available for rent, but the rear portion is used by Ugly's bar and a liquor store. The liquor store owner seemed excited about the idea of a reinvented drive in, as did an employee at Napa Auto Parts.
"We need some good food around here," she said.