The hamburger market can be fiercely competitive. To stay ahead, one must be innovative, forward thinking, and a step ahead of the other guys. Just ask McDonalds and Burger King. But one of Paducah’s finest burger joints has carved out its place in history by keeping things just the way they’ve always been.
On July 3, 1949, Bob Holman opened a Dairy Queen on Bridge St., then a main thoroughfare from Paducah to Livingston, Marshall, and Calloway Counties. The store only sold ice cream products through the front window. A few years later, Bob added sandwiches to the menu and was told by the Dairy Queen home office that he would have to stop. Dairy Queen only sold ice cream, and nothing was to be added to the menu. Bob knew the potential, however, and he persisted. Dairy Queen was thoroughly impressed. Eventually, the franchise would add burgers and fries to the line up at a majority of their locations.
In 1960, Bob Holman went out on his own and went with a name that is now synonymous with Paducah: Bob’s Drive-In. He continued expanding the menu, utilizing recipes he and his mother developed.
While not much has changed over the years, a great deal of innovation took place in the early days. “Bob was one of the first to add the drive in aspect to the burger business,” says Neil Ward, who bought Bob’s in 1978. “People would pull up, and a carhop would come out and take the order. After a while, he added awnings and the intercom system. As far as we know, Bob had the first drive-in in Kentucky.”
As Bob's vision for the business grew, the building remained relatively small. Today, it is set up exactly as Bob left it—in a sort of shotgun fashion, partitioned by a wall that runs down the middle. One side houses the grill and deep fryers, with not a lot of room for movement. Bob saw this problem early on as the cooks shuffled about the kitchen, edging past one another in the close quarters. Not only was it inconvenient, it was inefficient. He quickly concocted a conveyor belt that runs through the middle of the building in order to ease the congestion. The greatest relief came to the fry cook. The belt carries french fries from the cook, who is at one end of the building, to the carhop located at the other. Instead of walking back and forth all day, he simply places the basket of fries on the belt at his end, and voila! they are to the carhop in no time. The belt is still used today.
Of course the star of the show at Bob's is the hamburger; and their claim to fame is the original Fiesta Burger. “Bob had been to Mexico,” explains Neil. “He’d seen something like this there, and he wanted to bring it back to Paducah. He came up with a recipe, and we’ve been using the same one ever since.” The burger is topped with a generous amount of cheese and homemade chili. Neil even uses the same brands of ingredients Bob started with, all the way down to the chili powder. “The menu really hasn’t changed much over the years,” says Neil. “We have the original, hand-written Fiesta burger recipe along with all of Bob’s mom’s recipes that we still use to this day.
We have lost a few things, however… like the original oyster sandwich!” Maybe that is for the best. An article on Paducah's best oyster sandwich places doesn't seem to have as much of an appeal.