It’s hard to imagine the corner of West F Street and Bryan Avenue without the presence of Gillman’s Classic Drive-In.
Fortunately for the community of Oakdale, as well as some faithful followers that’s not a reality to be seen anytime soon. Two short years ago the iconic eatery was purchased by Don and Jennifer DeGraff and they’ve been burning the grill ever since.
Prior to purchase of the local business Jennifer had spent seven years running the Snack Shack for Oakdale Stampede. A job which then lead to a family food trailer catering business and then they came upon Gillman’s.
According to Jennifer, the ‘For Sale’ sign was texted to her by a friend just a bit over two years ago. She and her husband quickly contacted Virginia Gillman, who had made the decision to retire and sell the business.
“Within a week it was a done deal,” Jennifer said of purchasing the business. “I felt like I was really familiar with this type of business. I just felt drawn to it.”
As circumstance would have it, prior to taking over the business, Virginia reached out to the couple needing a bit of help behind the counter. Jennifer quickly stepped in and learned firsthand from Virginia herself.
To aid with maintaining the demands of the business, Jennifer’s sister Crystal Ray relocated to Oakdale from Tennessee to serve as her sister’s right hand. The sister duo spends a large portion of their days there, six days a week.
Current hours of the 763 W. F St., Oakdale eatery are Monday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (during Mustang football) and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Aside from a few adjustments to the seating, some additions to the menu and a few cosmetic improvements, little has changed at the classic drive-in.
“We didn’t add too much,” Jennifer said. “It’s been 57 years so we didn’t feel a need to change the menu.”
One thing which did change however, was a partnership with the owner of El Toro Market, just a stone’s throw from the F Street location. A partnership Jennifer shared was prompted by a visit from Arturo, owner of the local market.
“Actually Arturo came over when we bought the building,” she said, noting that they cook 30 to 50 pounds of meat on the grill daily. “We chose what we thought was the best product at the best price and most convenient because the price transfers over to our customers.”
With Oakdale High School just steps away and a daily phone-in business, loyalty and quality to their customers is undoubtedly numero uno. Jennifer maintains the grill, as sister Crystal works the fryer and has mastered the milk shakes. According to the sister duo, it takes a team of five daily to efficiently service the lunch crowd.
An average of 75 high school students make Gillman’s a part of their daily lunch stop. So much so, that phone order customers are told orders will not be filled until after 12:15 p.m.
“The kids are on a tight time schedule,” Jennifer said. “People are so wonderful about it and being understanding.”
As for the student clientele the two women shared they could not be more pleased.
“The kids are ultimately respectful and patient,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised by the community support. People really do rally around their own. That’s just been wonderful.”
As an out of towner, Crystal has been impressed by the community, by way of student support.
“What the community puts in and gives back to the children, I think it’s fascinating,” Crystal said. “It’s really beautiful.”
As the owner/operators of a corner F Street business however, the two women did share a hope for a crossing guard and the busy school crossing. They watched a child get hit last school year, and have stepped out themselves to slow traffic so students may cross.
“We’ve run out here several times, because they’re kids,” Jennifer said. “They’re not being jerks. They press the button and wait but people are so impatient.”
As for the benefits of the family business, both sisters note the same thing – family and working with family every day they report to the drive-in.
“It brings a complete meaning to family is everything,” Crystal said. “I think that’s fantastic for the children to see.”