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Garry’s Slingblade Drive In – “Arkansas Dairy Bars”

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You'll find one of Benton’s longstanding dairy bars along Edison Avenue at the corner of Cox Street, where the original Leon's Whopper Burger was erected in 1961.

 

Generations enjoyed the quirky hop stop for its burgers, shakes and jukebox. Its combination of walk-up service, soda counter and intimate booths made it a spectacular teenage hangout. 

 

Vintage exterior shot of Leon's Whopper Burger

 

Leon's Whopper Burger was owned and operated by Leon and Louise Patterson. It was one of two Whopper Burger locations in Benton, Arkansas – the other being on old Military Road. Benton had an affinity for dairy bars from the 60s through the 90s with Ruff's Tastee Freeze, a Dairy Queen, the Congo Road station that became the Salem Dairy Bar, Hickey's Dairy Cone on the Little Rock Highway and the Kream Kastle on the way out towards Hot Springs. The town's population seemed particularly adoring of the establishments.

 

Staff members pose behind the counter of Garry's Drive In in the late 1990s

 

In the 1980s, the Pattersons' daughter Peggy Wilson and her husband, Garry, took on the restaurant, and ran it for a couple of decades. The restaurant dropped the Whopper Burger name after Burger King contacted Garry and his kin and pointed out that the name "Whopper" was now a trademarked item. At that point, the name was simplified to Garry's Drive In.

 

From around 2009 to 2014, Bob and Scottie Viall operated the restaurant, renaming it The Dairy Barn. Don and Cathy Huckaby purchased it in 2015. The Huckabys had previously been in the grocery business in Malvern, Arkansas (Huckaby is a common name in this area of the state). Though Don passed away in 2019, the family still owns and runs the operation.

 

Still of Billy Bob Thornton as Karl Childers eating at Garry's Slingblade Diner in Sling Blade Film

 

The current name of the restaurant – Garry’s Slingblade Drive In – comes from the 1996 film “Sling Blade,” written and directed by Benton native Billy Bob Thornton, who won an Academy Award for best actor for the portrayal of Karl Childers. Thornton has no involvement in the operation. From what I've been told, the Huckabys decided to both invoke the recognizable Garry's name and that of the popular movie. The combination has been a hit, particularly with traveling filmgoers who seek out movie location.

 

Exterior shot of current Garry's Slingblade Drive In

 

Even now, though, folks refer to the place as the Whopper Burger, Garry's, or The Dairy Barn - depending on when they became associated with the restaurant. I just remember it as the red dairy bar at the end of Cox Street.

 

Six Benton High School Boys gather near the jukebox at Leon's Whopper Burger

 

Whatever the name, the location draws lots of folks, not just from around the region but around the neighborhood, and for good reason. The eatery reeks of nostalgia, from its small number of bar stools to its three booths, the walls bedecked with every bit of dairy bar culture, “Sling Blade” stills and signage it can possibly muster. The south end of the restaurant is a packed kitchen with a classic dairy bar walk up window on the end; an addition from the 1980s offers a very busy drive-up window for call-in orders.

 

The Huckaby's biggest contribution to the legacy, outside of the new name, is probably the family’s dedication to having local products available. When tomatoes are in season, they're absolutely fresh, as is other produce. Behind the counter, there are oodles of jars of jellies and the like, along with Juanita's brittles from Arkadelphia. Coolers offer a variety of bottled beverages, in case you'd rather get the true old-style, counter-service feel of cold glass over what's pulled from the fountain.

 

Garry's Slingblade Drive In Classic Cheeseburger and Crinkle Cut Fries

 

The menu, like so many of our dairy bars across Arkansas, has grown with the time. While early iterations include cheeseburgers, footlong hot dogs, pork tenderloin sandwiches and the ubiquitous pizza burger, more recent additions are available, such as catfish and shrimp po'boys, Philly cheesesteaks, and even pizza. 

 

The gold standard is a dressed cheeseburger seasoned lightly and griddle fried, with American cheese melted on before being transferred to a lightly toasted bun. Fries are crispy crinkle-cut, an Americana style pairing that's been steady to the location since at least the 1970s. It's pretty much the exact same burger you would have received if you'd ordered it two generations earlier.

 

Garry's Slingblade Drive In Strawberry Shake

 

But I have to brag outright on the strawberry shake. Instead of today's norm of a flavored syrup blended into soft serve, Garry's uses actual sliced and sugared strawberries with its milk and ice cream, creating a throwback confection full of delightful nostalgia.

 

Garry’s is just one of 94 Arkansas homegrown dairy bars still in operation. To learn about more of these delightful destinations, tune in to Arkansas PBS Thursday, Aug. 19, for “Arkansas Dairy Bars: Neat Eats and Cool Treats.”

 

 

JOIN US:

 

Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021

 

“Arkansas Dairy Bars: Neat Eats and Cool Treats” preview screening

 

Kenda Drive-In Theatre

 

107 Westwood Dr., Marshall, Arkansas

 

Join us at the Kenda Drive-In in Marshall, Arkansas, Thursday, Aug. 12, for a free preview screening of "Arkansas Dairy Bars: Neat Eats and Cool Treats" before its premiere on Arkansas PBS Aug. 19!

 

Gates will open at 6:30 p.m., and the film will be shown at sundown. You can meet host Kat Robinson and enjoy games, Arkansas PBS prizes and free refreshments before the screening.

 

 

TUNE IN:

 

Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021

“Arkansas Dairy Bars: Neat Eats and Cool Treats” premiere, 7 p.m.

 

 

VISIT GARRY'S SLINGBLADE DRIVE IN:

 

Garry’s Slingblade Drive In

 619 Cox St., Benton, AR 72015

 

Swing by to take in the nostalgia – and possibly a serious shake – from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday or Saturday between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

 

 

DONATE NOW:

 

Donate now at myarpbs.org/donatedairybars to support public media across Arkansas, and you can pre-order a DVD copy, companion book, T-shirt or other fun thank-you gift! 

 

 

LEARN MORE:

 

Explore “Arkansas Dairy Bars” dishes, historical photos, video extras and more here.

 

 

Arkansas Dairy Bars Host and Author Kat Robinson holds up a vanilla ice cream cone.
About the author: Kat Robinson is Arkansas’s food historian and most enthusiastic road warrior. The Little Rock-based travel writer is the host of the Emmy-nominated Arkansas PBS documentary "Make Room For Pie; A Delicious Slice of The Natural State" and a committee member for the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. The author of ”101 Things To Eat in Arkansas Before You Die,” “102 More Things to Eat in Arkansas Before You Die” and ”Arkansas Food: The A to Z of Eating in The Natural State,” Kat has also compiled the comprehensive travel guide for pie lovers, ”Another Slice of Arkansas Pie: A Guide to the Best Restaurants, Bakeries, Truck Stops and Food Trucks for Delectable Bites in The Natural State” (2018). Her other books are “Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State” (2012), “Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley” (2013) and “Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta” (2014). She is the Arkansas fellow and curator to the National Food and Beverage Foundation, a guest editor for the University of Arkansas publication Arkansauce: The Journal of Arkansas Foodways and the 2011 Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism Henry Award winner for Media Support. Her work has appeared in regional and national publications including Food Network, Forbes Travel Guide, Serious Eats and AAA Magazines, among others. Her expertise in food research and Arkansas restaurants has been cited by Saveur, Eater, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the Southern Foodways Alliance's Gravy podcast. While she writes on food and travel subjects throughout the United States, Robinson is best known for her ever-expanding knowledge of Arkansas food history and restaurant culture, all of which she explores on her 1200+ article website, TieDyeTravels.com. Kat's journeys across Arkansas have earned her the title "road warrior," "traveling pie lady," and probably some minor epithets. Few have spent as much time exploring The Natural State, or researching its cuisine. "The Girl in the Hat" has been sighted in every one of Arkansas's 75 counties, oftentimes sliding behind a menu or peeking into a kitchen. Additionally, Kat's other forays includes running the budding new publishing house Tonti Press, which features the works of Arkansas authors. Her new podcast, Kat Robinson's Arkansas, is in production awaiting the reopening of culinary tourism and road trips in response to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. She speaks before audiences of all sizes on the subjects of Arkansas, food, travel and plenty of other subjects.