News

The original Big Mac

In the 1940s and '50s, teens flocked to Johnny Mac's; today the iconic building stands vacant and available

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.

Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Betty J. Gregory
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Thanks to Eugene Sharp, a former classmateat at MVUHS I went to your web site and saw the picture of Johnny Mac's Drive In. What a trip down memory lane. Too bad someone couldn't renovate it to it's former self. I'd sure make it for the grand re-opening.
Sincerely, Betty Moore-Gregory, Oakdale, Ca.


3 people like this
Posted by Cornell "Corky"Anton
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Referring to Johnny Mac's as "...the place to be for Mountain View teens..." is a to minimalize or trivalize the essential part this drive-in played to the entire south bay area (and environs that may exceed these paramaters.) Johnny Mac's was 'the' place for anyone who attended Mountain View High School. That included all of Los Altos, some of South Palo Alto, into Sunnyvale, etc. Then there were the other high schools, like Fremont, Paly, Santa Clara, and San Jose who gathered for a "Big Mac, fries, and chocolate malt."
As a Mountain View Alum (Class of 1950) and a resident of Los Altos, I think a more fitting tribute to this icon of Mountain View is in order.
Thanks for the wonderful memories! They got me through Korea, and are still there after all these years.
canton376@comcast.net


2 people like this
Posted by Claude DeMoss
a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Born & raised in Redwood City, I remember the first Johnny Mac's very well...It was mine & many other Sequoia High School students favorite hangout...Later, when I was a RC Police Officer, Johnny Mac's was on "my beat" & still the best place for a hamburger...The Big Mac...I laugh when I read about either a VP or a franchise owner of McDonald's claiming they "invented" the "Big Mac" around 1968, when in fact, the Big Mac was served at Johnny Mac's in Redwood City since around 1947, through the 1950s & part of the 1960s before it sold & was renamed to Cindy's...The Big Mac disappeared until McDonald's pu them on their menu!
Claude DeMoss
Redwood City 52 years
Mountain View 18 years
San Jose 4 years
CalHawaiiHomes@aol.com


2 people like this
Posted by Opal Probasco Morrison
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 13, 2009 at 1:36 pm

I was raised in Mountain View from the time I was about 1 year old. My mother was a car hop at Johnny Mack's for many years mostly during the Korean Conflict while my dad was over-seas. I'm now 62 years old and finding these pictures and this web site brings back very fond memories. Thanks!


Like this comment
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 14, 2009 at 10:52 am

USA is a registered user.

Daniel -- That's good to know. Interesting history.

BTW, the photo caption reads. "The former drive-in now stands vacant on El Camino Real behind Walgreen's." There is no Walgreen's around there, as far as I know.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike Carroll
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2010 at 6:21 am

My "stepfather" did not own Big Mac's in the 1960s. It was owned by the stepfather of a friend, Gary Painter, although my Aunt Betty worked as a car hop during the summer of 1963. Gary recollected playing in the basement full of electronic parts. It's interesting that the JM owner launched the Burger Pit restaurants.


Like this comment
Posted by Karen Chambliss Abraham
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I remember so well cruising Johnny Mac's. We went from there to Spivey's and back to Johnny Mac's. A cup of hot chocolate in the winter and a coke with fries to share in the warmer weather. There was a Bill and Mary Clark who lived on Bush Street and had Clark's Hamburgers on El Camino. Think Bill came to MV as a result of his US Navy service like many families did after WWII. Mtn View High School on Castro Street was the only high school in the area. It was a nice time to grow up in Mtn View and I feel fortunate my parents decided to settle there after WWII. Highway School Class of 1956. Mtn View High School Class of 1960. Thank for the memories. Karen Chambliss in Petaluma, CA


Like this comment
Posted by ken kowalski
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm

It is a very sad thing to see this. I find it horrible that for some reason this place couldn't stay open. Not only that, but who ever bought it decided to take off the neon lights, took out the window tiles to the left. and painted it grey and white. I know this wasn't the first coat of paint to hit this building after johnny macs as well. It is just a seriously sad story to see that this building doesn't shine like it use to. Is it really so expensive to replace neon lights? Well it's cheaper to rip them off and paint the trip grey.... A color that does not stand out at all. and makes the place look like...... an old laundromat. ridiculous... considering anyone who owns a business must not have wanted as much attention as those awesome neon lights were going to grab. And after all its just the old johnny macs. lets rip it apart and paint it boring. I run into this stuff all the time where i live. and i really dont appreciate the lack of style in business these days.

Just imagine if vegas said. well. lets get rid of all these lights and paint everything grey and white and tan.

YEY.

keep it cool.


1 person likes this
Posted by John Brignani Jr.
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 21, 2011 at 7:11 am

I was born in 1941 and raised in Mountain View and lived at 506 Mountain View Ave. My Friends and I would walk down the street to El Camino and cross over to Johnny Macs. Anyone I,ve ever talked to about the ORIGINAL Big Mac burger from Johnny Macs would say [ It was the best buger ever ]. Twice over the years I,ve tried to search for the recipe or ingredinces in the SAUCE of the Big Mac but have had no sucess. If there is anyone out there that may have info on the Big Mac sauce, I would be so gratefull as well as my freinds. Please email me [ jbrignani@charter.net ] with any info about the sauce, it will be very appreciated. Thanks, John Brignani Jr.


Like this comment
Posted by Claude DeMoss
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm

About the sauce - no big secret - think Thousand Island Dressing!
Sequoia1952@aol.com


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Posted by Mike Winter
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 21, 2012 at 10:26 am

In the late fifties my Father Harold Winter and his partner Bill Kogelshatz owned Johnny Mac's. As a High School Senior in 1957 I used to work Friday and Saturday nights in Mountain View until about one AM and then drive to Redwood City to work the 'bar rush' until three or so. I did make the trip in my new Ford convertible. I had to work about 25-30 hours a week to make those tough $86.20 payments.

Two patties of freshly ground steer beef on a double decker sesame seed bun with lettuce, mayonaise and our own special relish. A slice of cheese if desired... 45cents.

Mickey D, what a ya say you give my brother and I a half a cent for each one you've sold? Deal?


Like this comment
Posted by Carrie Fischer
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Oct 15, 2013 at 11:19 pm

My grandfather, Bill Lane and his brothers' Herschel Lane and Poodle Lane owned the building that Johnny Mac's restaurant was in, sometime in the 50's and early 60's. He definitely owned and ran the restaurant in 1960 & 1961. My mom recalls a time in 1961 when Johnny Maclane, who was friends with my grandfather, had a pistol with blanks and fired it just as she walked in the door to the restaurant and she almost fainted. She was pregnant with me. They also had a coin shop in the same building, a furniture store, and owned a the Lane Creamery in downtown Mtn. View next to the movie theater.


2 people like this
Posted by Tony Siress
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 7, 2014 at 2:56 pm

My Father Gary Siress was a short-order cook in the late 1950's at Johnny Mac's he used to tell me stories about how people would go from Spivey's (Grant/El Camino) Johnny Mac's Clarke's when he was a teenager. I Have always dreamed that someone would reopen this location as a gormet burger joint.


Like this comment
Posted by don dina
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2015 at 9:26 pm

My brother and our friends attended Los Altos High School from 1957 to 1961- LAHS Knights Class of '61. Prior to LAHS, we were at Covington Jr. High School just on the other side of the fence from St. Joseph's catholic school. Remember? A best friend, Gary Olivotti did his freshman year at LAHS but his family moved to Mtn View in summer of 1958, so he graduated a MVUHS Eagle, class of '61. We all cruised Johnny Mac's but also Marquad's(sp?)in Palo Alto, A&W Root Beer in South Paly on El Camino, Spivey's, and down to The Starlight in San Jose. The Starlight had the best cars by far; Joe Bailon customs and so-forth. Mainly went to the Monte Vista Drive-In movie, and Palo Alto Drive-In. Saw REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE at the Los Altos walk-in on Main st. and JAILHOUSE ROCK at the Mtn View walk-in on Castro. I used to meet a kid who went to St. Francis HS at a doughnut shop that was on Castro?, across El Camino. We would cut school in his white MGA roadster and go to Searsville Lake and hang out on Stanford campus. Cops never stopped you there. Did you ever go to Rossotti's on Alpine?


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