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Road food: Billy Boy Drive-Thru makes homemade fast food for more than 50 years

Road food: Billy Boy Drive-Thru makes homemade fast food for more than 50 years


SIOUX CITY | To say that Denise Bailey grew up in the restaurant business would be an understatement.

As a 2-year-old, she'd often sleep inside a storage room at Billy Boy Drive-Thru, the 2328 Riverside Blvd., restaurant owned and operated by dad Paul Abelson for years.

"(Original owner) Vince Calligan opened Billy Boy in 1962 and my dad worked with him," Bailey said. "Since my family lived in a house next to the restaurant, it was often more convenient for me to be at the restaurant than at home. So, I could usually be found in my footy pajamas in a crib that was next to a sack of potatoes."  

After Abelson purchased the drive-thru from Calligan in 1968, the industrious Bailey became even more of a Billy Boy fixture.

"My parents worked here and so did me and my siblings," Bailey said, behind the counter of the Riverside restaurant. "As soon as I was tall enough to reach the machine, I was the one who filled cones with ice cream."

And before too long, she was also responsible for such Billy Boy mainstays as its chili dogs, loosemeat sandwiches, pizza burgers, chicken dinners and the 12 burgers, "Tub O'Fries" and two liters of pop "Shopper Special."

Eventually, Bailey and her husband Randy bought the business from Abelson, who died in 2012.

"I wanted to keep Billy Boy the way my dad had it and the way our customers wanted it," Bailey said. "That's why all of the potatoes for french fries and onions for our onion chips are still cut by hand."

Yet Bailey isn't oppose to shaking things up a bit by introducing newer items like the Outlaw burger -- a two-patty burger, with lettuce, tomatoes, "bangin'" bacon and a schmear of some "sassy" sauce.

"It's fun keeping things fresh since we're serving two or three generations of families," Bailey said.

In fact, three generations of Bailey's family are also working behind the counter of Billy Boy, including her adult daughter Kristi Cooper.

"It was kind of a rite of passage for all of the kids in my family," Cooper said. "We knew it would only be a matter of time before we'd be taking drive-thru orders or working the counter."

Indeed, Cooper's 2-year-old daughter KayLeah Cooper was given a crash course on how to operate the ice cream machine.

"KayLeah knows how to get her own vanilla-and-bubble-gum ice cream," Cooper noted. "I think I was around her age when I learned how to do it myself."

Reminiscing about a childhood spent in the restaurant business, Cooper said she'd love it when her grandfather told her the origins of the "Billy Boy" name.

"Grandpa said the name came from the children's song, 'Billy Boy,'" she recalled. "You know, 'Can she make a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy? Can she make a cherry pie, Charming Billy?' I think I married a man named Billy simply because I've been surrounded by Billy Boy my entire life."

For Bailey, Billy Boy has become a way of life. She generally comes to work early in the morning and stays late at night.

"My only day off is Monday, since it's the only day we're closed," she said.

Still Bailey said she wouldn't have it any other way.

"You don't see too many locally owned drive-thru restaurants because they need to compete with big chains," she admitted. "Billy Boy hasn't survived for more than 50 years because we make fast food. Instead, we make great food by hand at a fair price."



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