By: Langdon Kessner
Mendon Twin Drive-In is one of the last few fully operating drive-in movie theaters in Massachusetts. Built in 1953 and opening the following year, it is considered a New England institution and even one of the top drive-ins in the country.
“Our drive-in is one of the best entertainment values in New England. Two movies for up to six people,” said David Andelman, co-owner of the theater along with his brothers, Dan and Michael Andelman. “The property is 16 beautiful tree-lined acres. Everyone from older couples to younger couples to families to teenagers has the best time, getting there early, having a beer or a glass of wine, playing football, taking pictures. I love watching everyone have fun while I’m working,” he said.
The Mendon Twin Drive-In was up for sale in the winter of 2014, when the Andelman brothers decided to purchase it. “My brothers and I love drive-ins. We thought we could bring more people, make lots of improvements, and do more events. So, when the chance came up, we grabbed it,” said Andelman.
The Andelman brothers are also the creators of Phantom Gourmet, a television program that focuses on food in New England.
So after buying the drive-in, the brothers added many improvements, such as adding Dolby Digital Sound and the latest digital projection. “We added music and announcements. We added heat and lights and fences so we could stay open longer, like ‘Star Wars’ in December,” said Andelman. “We built Pop’s Beer Garden with a stage, seating, hula hoops, fire pits, and make your own s’mores kits.”
And the features don’t stop there, Andelman took pride in taking the “wait time in Judi’s Snack from 40 minutes to under 10 minutes. We bought an extra ice cream machine so we could serve that faster, too. We added pizza, Italian Ice, onion rings, several sodas and candies. We set the tone with the customers, follow our rules from alcohol to parking, or you’ll have to leave.”
The changes were met with a positive response by both the employees and the moviegoers.
Alexis Barfield-Closson is working her second summer at Mendon Twin-Drive In and she doesn’t have a single complaint about her job. “Honestly, I have no least favorite parts here.” she added, “I love my job. I love that I get to meet new and different people here everyday. Everybody here is great to work for, including the customers.”
Barfield-Closson said she has been very satisfied with the changes the Andelman brothers brought to the theater as it has made the experience “very satisfying and rewarding. I couldn’t ask for a better job.”
Scott Ayotte and Madison McKenna are frequent moviegoers at the drive-in, attending for more than 20 years now.
Ayotte remembers his first movie being “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie,” released in 1995. Ayotte loves the theater for its “super charming atmosphere along with the awesome community and the nostalgic 1950s vibe.”
“What’s really cool about the theater,” said McKenna, “is that it didn’t really change when it was bought out by Phantom Gourmet. Normally you see big corporations buying out the little guys and changing everything that people loved about them. That didn’t happen here. They kept everything pretty much the same and the only changes they made were ones that were actually needed like the snack bar and staying open year round.”
Ayotte also felt that the changes made were “for the better of the theater. I love that they kept the 1950s retro vibe and didn’t make any outrageous changes that ruined the place. I’m glad that it’s not just the summer anymore and I can go to the Mendon Drive-In year round. That’s was one of the best changes.”
Andelman also believes that setting an example is the best way to have both happy employees and customers, “My brothers and I invest a lot of money and time into the business,” he said, adding “we try to set the example by working very hard ourselves including parking cars, and we value feedback from customers and employees on how to get better.”
Drive-in theaters used to be a staple in the 1950s. Then, around 4,000 drive-in theaters operated across the U.S. Nowadays, the United Drive-In Theater Association lists only 349 theaters.
The decline can be attributed to many factors, such as conversion to digital or declining attendance, but Andelman believes it all goes back to the owners and operators.
“I think a lot of drive-in owners were lazy and greedy. They didn’t really work or invest and the product became stale. We try to be the exact opposite. We’ve kept the nostalgia but added modern improvements and management.”
Andelman maintains that the Mendon Drive-In will be around for a long time. “Our goal is to be the most fun, best run drive-in, he said. He said each visit lead to him writing down his thoughts in a notebook to “then try to get better the next night. Our employees have given me at least 100 ideas for better ways to do things. It’s fun to work with people like that.”