Coke floats, milkshakes, toasted sandwiches, burgers and chips. These are the memories most associated with The Doll House, which stood for decades in Mouille Point on the beachfront.
With a sign out front that read “South Africa’s Original Drive-In Restaurant”, this famous eatery at 129 Beach Road modelled its food and format off the American burger joint model. This is no surprise as the franchise was started by two Americans, Evan Wright and Layton Alridge, according to a newspaper clipping from the 1982 Weekend Argus.
Daniel Reginald Wanberg opened The Cape Town Doll House in 1938 as the seventh branch in the country. The restaurant stayed in the family until it closed and was demolished in 1983, first run by Wanberg, then by his wife after his heart attack and finally by their daughters and their husbands.
The restaurant franchise introduced the city to a lot of firsts we take for granted today (or that have phased out of fashion). These included bringing American foods like toasted sandwiches, burgers and southern fried chicken to the country and the first car tray service for refreshments straight to your car.
The doors opened at 10am, serving coffee and toasted sandwiches to morning customers, only closing late in the night with those finishing a night out stopping by for a bite.
Wanberg’s daughter Darlene and her husband Kelvin St George were running the restaurant when it finally closed.
“My husband Kelvin regularly worked from 10 am to 2 am which meant he never saw the children”, said Darlene in the Argus article. It is no surprise then that the article quotes her as finding relief in the closure of what was considered a landmark by many.
“Frankly we’re relieved. We’re ready to retire and now our children are busy with other things”, she said.
The building was demolished in 1983 and replaced with an office block. Today, the spot is taken up by an apartment complex. Those sitting in Cafe Neo located on its ground floor could have a similar view as others did from the drive-in all those years ago.
Information from Brandon Platt, Helen St-George Mitchell and Susan Dawson
Pictures: Brandon Platt, Helen and Susan St George/ Facebook