Old Time Drive In Burgers serves up ‘old school’ caring customer service

One from the heart.

Voula Psihalopoulos meets me at the front door of her Old Time Drive In restaurant in Shadow Hills, and points to a booth where longtime customers and friends Scott and Gladys Cappiello are splitting a hamburger — smiling at each other across the table like a couple of young lovebirds on a first date. They are 84.

“Look at them,” Voula says. “They’re the epitome of true love. You don’t abandon ship.”

Gladys has dementia. She no longer remembers Scott is her husband, or the many years she spent as a registered nurse, often traveling to Bolivia on her vacation time to help with medical missions there.

Today, wherever Scott goes, Gladys goes. He’s remembering the old times for both of them now. You don’t abandon ship.

The family business Old Time Drive In was founded almost 40 years ago in Shadow Hills as seen on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

He invited me to lunch to meet Voula. He thinks there is a story to tell about this little slice of Americana that opened its doors in 1985 and never changed the calendar. Two of the first customers to walk in were Scott and Gladys.

Voula was 10 then, wiping down tables and counters with her sisters, Maria and Toula, while their parents, Markos and Georgia Kaffatos, Greek immigrants, cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the kitchen grill.

Child labor laws? Forget it, she laughs. This wasn’t a job. She had watched her parents scrape together every dime they had to open these doors, and she knew all their futures depended on its success.

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Wiping down tables, and making sure the ketchup bottles, and salt and pepper shakers were full was the least she and her sisters could do to help.

Scott Shulman has lunch at Old Time Drive In on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in Shadow Hills as more people enter the family business that was founded almost 40 years ago. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“I asked what her name was that first time we met,” Scott says. “I thought she said Foola. I told her no father would name his daughter Foola. She laughed and said, ‘no, Voula.’ We all laughed.”

As we talked, Gladys reached across the table and took Voula’s hand, mesmerized by her sparkling, gold flaked nail polish. “So, pretty,” Gladys said. Voula thanked her, and took her other hand.

What she wouldn’t give to see a spark of recognition return to Gladys’ eyes. How many years had they laughed and cried at these tables.

“You can go to your franchises and never get what you get at a small, family-owned restaurant,” Voula would tell me later. “You can’t buy it or sell it.”

Manager and founder’s daughter, Voula Psihalopoulos, visits with longtime customers Gladys and Scott Cappiello at her family’s business Old Time Drive In, founded almost 40 years ago, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in Shadow Hills. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

It’s called loyalty and it’s a two-way street. The sign outside is still true to its name. Old Time. It’s still 1985. You know us. We haven’t changed.

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“A man came in recently with his wife and children wondering if we were the same owners from when he was a little boy and his mother would bring him in every week for a hamburger.

“I asked what his mother’s name was. He told me Mimi. I remembered her. She was a bus driver. Had red hair. Every day, she would come in at the same time with the same order. I asked how she was doing?

“He said she had died a year ago, and I could see he was tearing up.”

For just a moment, he was a kid again sitting in a booth with his mother having a hamburger. Relieving old times in a special place that never changes.

Yes, we’re still the same owners, Voula Psihalopoulos said.

If you go: 8742 Glenoaks Blvd., Shadow Hills. oldtimeburgers.com

 

Dennis McCarthy can be reached at dmccarthynews@gmail.com.

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