TRAVERSE CITY — His trip home to Lansing could wait.
There was one place Felix Garcia had to stop at first and there was one thing to complete his mid-afternoon meal.
“I work up here on occasion and this is my place to go,” Garcia said from the first booth nearest the door at Don’s Drive-In. “It’s my favorite place.”
Garcia said he’s been dining at Don’s when he is working in Traverse City for more than 25 years and there is “almost always” a milkshake on his table, as was the case on a sunny Wednesday.
“They’re so good,” Garcia said. “I like the fruit ones because they put real fruit in there.”
A national publication agrees.
Don’s Drive-In at 2030 U.S. 31 North was named Best Milkshake in Michigan by the TheDailyMeal.com in an article published by USA Today.
“It’s awesome,” Don’s General Manager Dan Reed said of the honor. “I didn’t believe it.”
Reed said the secret to the milkshakes at Don’s is that there is no secret.
“It’s real hand-dipped ice cream and real syrup,” he said. “It’s great chocolate syrup. We don’t use milk; we don’t use whip cream.”
And when it comes to ice cream, Don’s keeps Prairie Farms delivery drivers busy.
“In the summer time, Prairie Farms estimates we go through 40 three-gallon jugs a day (on weekends),” Reed said. “So we go through 120 gallons a day when we’re really busy for our shakes and malts.
“That’s really significant; it’s a big number.”
Don’s Drive-In has another big number when it comes to ice cream. It’s another No. 1 in the state honor for the 1950s-style restaurant.
“Prairie Farms sells us more vanilla ice cream that anyone in the state of Michigan,” Reed said.
Waitress Cindy Buchan, who was working as the car hop on Wednesday, said the shakes sell all day long and in all different flavors.
“There is no set time,” Buchan said. “You just never know when they’re going to come in for it.
“The majority of the people go for the real fruit cherry and the real fruit strawberry. Those have been big this year. But plain vanilla and plain chocolate, we sell a ton of those, too.”
Don’s menu offers five milkshakes: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cherry and raspberry. There are a couple of specialty frozen concoctions as well. Current specialty shakes are peppermint and Oreo cookie.
“We switch them up with different flavors,” Reed said.
Reed, who has been working at Don’s for 32 years, says all the employees know how to make a shake. Cooks, waitresses, cashiers, car hops, the general manager and owner can all whip one out.
“We all make them,” Reed said.
Customers have the option of using flavored-syrup in the fruit shakes. But the majority keep it authentic, Reed said.
“It’s just not the same,” he said, adding the Don’s shakes come with a straw that has a bigger diameter to keep the cylinder free and clear. “Real fruit is so much better.”
The authenticity of the shakes matches the real feel of the diner that opened in 1958 and is unapologetically stuck there.
“A little bit of the interior decorating has changed,” Reed said. “The menu hasn’t really changed. We’ve added to it, but the burgers have stayed the same and the shakes have stayed the same.
“It’s authentic ‘50s. We have a juke box with ‘50s music. We have ‘50s-style curb service with real squawk boxes.”
The style was mentioned in the USA Today declaration, which according to the article used a number of previous best milkshake in every state list and combined it with reviews and scores from sites like Yelp and Foursquare.
“11 previously published lists of ‘the best milkshake in every state’ from various sources plus a number of “best in” rankings for individual states.
Reviews and scores from Foursquare and Yelp were also considered in order to come up with a consensus.
“An old-fashioned drive-in, opened in 1958 and still featuring ‘50s-style carhop service in the summer months, Don’s is a traditionalist in the shake department,” the Yelp review on Don’s stated.
Reed said Don’s wears the ‘traditional’ tag with pride. It’s one of the reasons why he turns down offers from other ice cream providers that try to replace Prairie Farms.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Reed said.