By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN While slicing onions and preparing mini tacos in the kitchen area, Mike and Vickie Mirenda of Delano’s Peppermint Twist Drive-In are thankful to be survivors in what has become a dying breed.
Quite simply, Mike said it is “hard work and having fun” that has led them to be successful in the drive-in restaurant business for as long as they have. But, it’s more than that.
Having purchased the struggling business in the early 1980s, Mike and Vickie had to work hard to build their customer base. They viewed the food as a key component to being successful, but said, above all, it is their staff and their customers.
“You could have the greatest food in the world, but if you have rude staff members, they’re not coming back,” Mike said.
“We have a wonderful staff. We have girls that have been here 10-15 years. All through high school, college we’re very fortunate,” Vickie said.
“We’ve got our Watertown delegation, too,” Mike said. We always have.”
“Our customers have found us and have made us what we are,” Vickie added.
In addition to the food, staff, and customers, the Mirendas are also very dependant upon Mother Nature for the success of their business.
Flashback 30 years
Some call the Peppermint Twist a complete package and an experience. Built in 1957, the business began as an A&W Root Beer.
“I think most of the women in town remember working here for Harold when it was A&W,” Vickie said. The business changed hands several times going into the early 1980s.
Mike and Vickie had met while working at a restaurant in Minneapolis. They heard about an opportunity with a drive-in restaurant in Delano.
“We came out to look at it and that was it,” Vickie said.
“We noticed it was a lot bigger on the inside than it looked like outside,” Mike said.
When they took over the business, they served a lot of Italian food. It also took some time for the business base to build up.
“It was just the two of us operating the place,” Vickie said. That’s how slow it was.”
Eventually, they got so busy making burgers, they didn’t have time to make the more intricate Italian dishes. And, they had to hire staff to help them.
Mike admitted that when Hardee’s came to town, that brought their business down a bit.
“When they came in, we knew we had to do something to draw attention to this because that was the big franchise in the area,” Vickie said. The Mirendas painted the building and surrounding canopies pink and green.
“Once we got people to notice us they knew our food was good once they stopped but it was just getting them to stop initially,” she said.
And then, it was the raspberry shakes. When the Mirendas took over the business, the menu included the basic shakes and malts.
The raspberry shakes were introduced after a friend of theirs brought in some fresh raspberries from his garden and asked Mike and Vickie to put them in some ice cream.
“We used fresh raspberries for a long time, but they’re so short-lived, so then we went with fresh-frozen so we could have them all the time, and they took off like crazy,” Mike said.
Between the revitalized buildings and the raspberry shakes, the Twist began to attract attention sometimes in a big way.
The Mirendas were featured in the KARE11 backyard in the early 2000s. The day after the segment aired, the business sold more than 350 raspberry shakes.
“It was just insane,” Vickie said with a laugh. “If we could sell everything the way we sell raspberry shakes, we could retire.”
Terri Traen, a Delano native and KQRS disc jockey has mentioned the Peppermint Twist during her morning radio show, and the Twist has also been featured on the Food Channel’s best of drive-ins.
“They only did five in the nation and we were one of them,” Mike said.
More recently, WCCO Channel 4 conducted a poll and its viewers voted the Twist the number-one drive-in in the state.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Vickie said.
Marriage proposals and Teddy Bear Park
Initially, there were a few picnic tables in the grassy area as an overflow space to sit and eat or for people who did not wish to eat in their vehicles.
Now, Teddy Bear Park is a big draw, for people of all ages.
“The kids named it Teddy Bear Park,” Vickie said. After she threw some Hula-Hoops into the area and a stuffed elephant from her stepdaughter, it took off from there with the addition of more teddy bears and children’s areas.
“If the kids are happy, the parents are happy,” Vickie said with a smile.
In the 30 years, the Mirendas said they have watched an entire generation grow up.
“Every year you see the same kids come back,” Vickie said. “Now, they’re getting married and having babies.”
“It really makes us feel old, but not really,” Mike said. “If you don’t get old, it means you’re gone.”
Vickie said they have seen marriage proposals at the Twist, and said there are grandparents who met at the Twist who have brought their children to the establishment, and those children are now having children.
“Some come back every year on their anniversary,” Mike said.
Over the course of the summer, the Mirendas now employ about 20 part-time people. The couple is also very hands-on with the business, and is almost always on-site during open hours and, many times, long before or after the establishment is open for the day.
Vickie grew up in Minnetonka and on a farm near Waconia. Mike grew up in Milwaukee, WI.
“We’re very happy here. We live in town,” Vickie said. It didn’t take them more than a year or two and they knew they wanted to be in Delano.
“You don’t want to say you’re from Minnetonka and then run a restaurant in Delano,” Mike added.
This is one of the hardest times of the year for Vickie, because she said much of her summer staff goes back to high school or college.
“If I would have known we were going to do this for 30 years, I woulda had 10 kids of my own to step in,” Vickie said with a laugh. “We’re very lucky. It’s a family atmosphere they’re our extended family. Now they’re heading off to college and it’s a sad time for me I don’t like it when they go.”
During their “off season,” Mike works at Coborn’s Superstore in Delano and Vickie works at the Medina Entertainment Center.
They also take a nice extended vacation after they close in October and take a couple weeks before they open.
“We can work together side by side for six months out of the year, but get us at home,” Vickie said with a laugh.
“There’s nothing to do,” Mike added.
Though they have made some additions and improvements over the years, the concept has remained relatively the same.
“It’s fun to see the nostalgia when the grandparents bring the kids in and they want them to experience it and see the carhops and see the food getting delivered on a tray,” Vickie said.
Mike estimated there are about five or six drive-ins left in Minnesota.
As long as they are healthy, he said they are going to keep going as long as they can.
“We just want to thank our customers for letting us be here for 30 years,” Vickie said. “Without them, we can’t be here.”