Through the 1950s and 1960s, the Mil-Jo, at 5213 Oleander Drive, Wilmington, was the place to go for great 15-cent hot dogs and its signature Pizza Burger. Along with Carroll’s, at 3031 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington [Map this], and the Chic-Chic, at 1404 N. Fourth St., Wilmington, it was one of the Port City’s top drive-in spots.
For young people in particular, it was the place to meet and mingle. New Hanover High School alumni from the late ’50s and early ’60s say again and again that you headed to Varsity Drugs on Princess Street for lunch and the Mil-Jo after dark.
“The greasers would park on the left, families and parents would park in front, and the cool people would park on the right,” Susan Wells told Star-News staff writer Si Cantwell in 1996.
“What I wouldn’t give for some of those six-for-a-dollar hot dogs,” added former City Council member Charlie Rivenbark, who used to drive to the Mil-Jo in his mother’s ’62 Chevy.
The proprietor was Joseph M. Hines, who coined “Mil-Jo” from his name and that of his wife, Mildred Dixon Hines.
A World War II veteran, Hines and his wife bought the Dixie Pig No. 2 on Oleander Drive in the late 1940s. (Contrary to local legend, the Hineses never owned the original Dixie Pig on Carolina Beach Road.) When Oleander Drive was widened to four lanes around 1950, the road work wiped a lot of the Dixie Pig’s parking. Hines therefore tore the old restaurant down and built the Mil-Jo on the same lot, set further back from the highway.
In all, the Mil-Jo had 62 parking spaces, and at peak hours, just about all of these were filled. “There were times back in the ’60s when traffic was backed up solid on Oleander to the Elks Club,” Hines told Star-News reporter Cammy Bain in 1976. On weekends, Hines had to hire off-duty police officers to help patrol the lot from 9 p.m. to midnight. State Highway Patrol officers learned to post themselves near the restaurant, Cantwell noted, to catch young hot-rodders tearing out of the parking lot.
A large canopy shielded parking lots on the right side of the building, and car hops delivered orders to cars. Customers called in their orders from their parking spaces by means of tw0-way radios. (According to his children, Hines learned to listen carefully for the sound of beer-can tops popping in the background; if he heard one over the radio, he ordered the underage drinkers off the premises.) For a while in the late 1950s, the Mil-Jo experimented with the “Chef-O-Matic,” a system that let customers order menu items by push button.
For abeut a decade, beginning in December 1956, local radio station WMFD (630 AM) would broadcast nightly from the Mil-Jo. Hines built a special glassed-in booth, just outside the drive-in, where the disc jockey — usually, WMFD personality Bill Weathers — could sit, survey the scene, take record requests from customers and read out local high school announcements between songs.
Hines became a father figure to his younger clientele — a stern father figure. “He’d sit on a stool by the front door,” recalled future Wilmington Mayor Hamilton Hicks, a member of New Hanover’s Class of 1955. When high school boys began setting off cherry bombs in the toilets, Hines had to rig a silent alarm in the toilet tank.
By the 1970s, however, inflation and competition from franchise fast-food outlets were cutting into the Mil-Jo’s profits. In 1974, Hines razed the drive-in and replaced it with Joe’s BBQ Barn, a 400-seat restaurant. He sold that business and retired in 1986, a decade before his death in 1996 at the age of 76.
Date posted: February 19, 2010
User-contributed question by: