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What was the Chic-Chic?

Ben Steelman

The Chic-Chic drive-in as seen in a vintage postcard from the Elaine Henson collection.

From the end of World War II through the mid-1970s, the Chic-Chic was one of the Port City’s favorite drive-in spots, ranking with the Mil-Jo,  at 5213 Oleander Drive, Wilmington [Map this], and Carroll’s at 3031 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington [Map this].

The Chic-Chic was located throughout its history at 1404 N. Fourth St., Wilmington [Map this], although most locals tended to think of it as on Castle Hayne Road, since it sat at the intersection.

An ad in the July 18, 1946, Morning Star announced  “the new Chic Chic Grill,” located “just across the overpass.” Diners were promised “only the best fine foods,” including “STEAKS (as you like ’em”) and “CHOPS (Little Abner would love),” along with “SANDWICHES (all kinds & made to order),” beer, soft drinks and curb service.

The restaurant wasn’t listed in the Wilmington City Directory until 1952. James G. Merritt was the proprietor until 1953 when he leased the business to S. Thomas Rhodes, a former motorcycle officer with the Wilmington Police Department, and his wife Dorothy. The next year, the Rhodeses exercised their option to buy. Rhodes ran the night shift while his wife handled the day shift. (Their son, S. Thomas Rhodes Jr., was later a state senator for New Hanover County and a cabinet secretary under Gov. Jim Martin.)

Rhodes died of a heart attack in 1959. His widow ran the business herself for another year. Then, in 1961, she leased it to Crowell E. “Gene” Spivey, a veteran downtown restauranter whose Front Street business had been hard hit by the pull-out of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad..

The 1954 directory entry promised “Sandwiches of All Kinds, Sea Foods, Soft Drinks, Beer” and “Courteous, Efficient Service.” A vintage postcard included a menu offering plenty of fried chicken. Throughout the 1950s, hot dogs were 15 cents, while a hamburger with all the fixings went for 25 cents.

Ads were  been rather haphazard about whether Chic-Chic was hyphenated or not (some years it was, some years it wasn’t), but one thing was rock-solid: No “K” in the name.

The Chic-Chic officially became a drive-in in 1961 when Spivey added awnings outside the building.

M.D. Batten, in her oral history for UNC Public Television, recalled cruising the Chic-Chic as a teenager in 1969; the place seemed to be crawling with off-duty Marines from Camp Lejeune, she said. All ages loved the restaurant though. Some old fans remember the waitresses were on roller skates, but Dorothy Rhodes MIller says it didn’t happen.

During the 1950s, the restaurant sponsored its own Little League baseball team.

Some sources claim that fans who frequented the Chic-Chic did not go to the Mil-Jo, and vice versa, atlhought Pat Wilkie, who patronized both, said many teens “cruised” between the two.

Despite its proximity to the Taylor Homes public housing complex built for blacks during segregation, the restaurant’s clientele remained all-white through the ’50s and’60s. The Chic-Chic was hit by arson durng the city’s 1971 riots. After that, according to Dorothy Rhodes Miller, who continued to own the property, business never really recovered.

The 1401 N. Fourth St. site was  listed as “vacant” beginning in the 1977 City Directory.In the late 1980s, the building was home to Simpson’s Crab House.

Related link:

Are there any restaurants in this area like those featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”?

User-contributed question by:
Tina Rhodes Perry

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5 Responses to “ What was the Chic-Chic?”

  1. On November 17, 2010 at 9:52 pm Anthony wrote:

    My great-grandfather ran this business way before I was born! He passed away in 2009 and was told of all the other eateries he opened. Including Merrit’s Burger House!

  2. On November 19, 2010 at 9:05 am Bob Simon wrote:

    Interesting Thing the “drive-in’s” in Wilmington. More should be written about these businesses that operated in the 1940’s through to current day. Some that come to mind are: Sha-la-mar located on market street, Hide away on Princess place drive, Winnies on Oleander between 16th and 17th street, to name a few. Many more “fast food” stands that I cannot remember the names. Thank you for the post. I am sure there are a lot of others that can remember much better than me. A list of these establishments would be of interest to me and many more of us older residents. Bob

  3. On November 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm Joyce Fussell Teachey wrote:

    When I was teenager in the early and mid 60’s kids from my area would drive all the way to Wilmington from Wallace Rose Hill area, just to get Chic Chic Oinion rings. I have never since found any like them.

  4. On November 4, 2011 at 2:49 pm Danni H. Long wrote:

    My mothers sister, Louise Futch worked at the Chic Chic for years until it closed.

  5. On July 20, 2013 at 6:49 pm Dorothy Rhodes Miller wrote:

    The Chic-Chic was a drive-in prior to the installation of the awnings which were the idea of Tommy Rhodes. At the time of his death, they were almost completely installed. The installation was completed by my brother, Buddy Williamson.

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