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Bell's Hamburger Drive-In, 1040 Meeting Street: 1970s   35 comments

Posted at 2:38 am in closing

I don't actually know what this Meeting Street building (now Chiva Auto Sales) was. I do like it though. The look of the roadside sign, the look of the roof overhang, and the way the windows of the main building are laid out (and the way they slant) make me think it was a fast-food drive-in. Does anyone recall this place?

UPDATE 1 Sept 2010: From the comments and the 1970 phonebook, I'm able to verify this as a Bell's, and am changing the post title. Also, it was definitely open as late as 1970, so I'm changing the closing date to "1970s".

UPDATE 3 December 2014 -- I am copying these pictures from the Chiva Auto Sales closing because they actually give a much better view of the old building, and most people will probably come looking for Bell's rather than Chiva:















UPDATE 3 December 2014 -- The building has now been razed:









UPDATE 11 August 2018 -- Commenter Candace Nelms sends in this City of West Columbia Instagram image of the Bell's in operation sometime in the late 1960s:

Written by ted on September 1st, 2010

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35 Responses to 'Bell's Hamburger Drive-In, 1040 Meeting Street: 1970s'

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  1. Wasn't this the Bell's Hamburgers Drive-In that Jenny was referring to in the Bell's closing? With the exception of the door going through the front, it looks identical to the postcard image of the old chain in terms of basic architecture. I've driven by this building on Meeting Street countless times over the last few decades, yet until you posted this closing, I've never noticed that they left the old Bell's Hamburgers building pretty much intact. Funny what you can miss when you have your mind on something else.

    Michael Taylor

    1 Sep 10 at 3:46 am

  2. I always thought this was a Burger Chef but it could have been a Bells.


    1 Sep 10 at 7:43 am

  3. That sign looks like it's probably the original, which makes me doubt this was a Burger Chef. Burger Chef had a distinctive shape to their signs and used a picture of the sign as a logo.

    So I guess it was a Bell's. We did not get on that side of the river much when it was still open.


    1 Sep 10 at 9:21 am

  4. As I always say, memory is a funny thing, but it seems to me that this might ave been something like "Grant's Open Air Market" in the lat 1970s or early 1980s. Maybe, maybe not. Then it became a succession of used car lots.


    1 Sep 10 at 10:16 am

  5. Michael tagged it -- I'm able to verify Bell's Hamburger Drive-In from the 1970 phonebook, and am changing the post title.


    1 Sep 10 at 11:01 am

  6. No..this was Gene's Hamburgers from the early 60's through maybe the 70's..but it was Doug Broome's brother Gene that ran this place. My Dad would take me there quite a bit back in the mid 60's.


    1 Sep 10 at 3:35 pm

  7. Oh yeah..and it was never a drive it. You had the parking lot and you would order from the area you see that's still there.. just like the original McDonalds from the 60's..all outside. It never had a "drive-in" car hop style thing like Maurice's or Doug Broome's Big Joy on North Main. This place may have become a "Bells Hamburgers" when Gene closed the place, but as said, originally it was Gene's Hamburgers..


    1 Sep 10 at 3:41 pm

  8. Well, the "Bell's Hamburger Drive-In" for that address is what's in the 1970 Yellowpages. It may have been a Gene's earlier..

    As for "Drive-In", I think that just means you drove your car there and parked close to the building, not that it was a "drive-through" or had carhops.


    1 Sep 10 at 4:28 pm

  9. This building was built to be a Bell's Hamburgers Drive-In. There's a really easy architectural detail (aside from the unmistakeable over-sized shed roof and severely-angled service window) that gives this away as a Bell's restaurant. Click on the second photograph above and pay attention to the hole pattern in the block wall "wing." Then compare it to this postcard of an official restaurant building. Remember that in the above photograph, we're seeing the left wing, and in the postcard we're seeing the right wing, which would have a mirrored pattern of holes. This was an architectural detail in all of the Bell's Hamburgers Drive-in restaurants in the Columbia area, as I remember it.

    Here's another comparison that has me thinking quite possibly the sign in the above Meeting Street address may be the original Bell's sign based on this image from a former known (and celebrated as such) Bell's Hamburgers Drive-In in Charlotte NC. If they weren't from the same chain, I don't know what to say (for once). However, if you compare either the restaurant in Charlotte or the restaurant on Meeting Street with the restaurant in the postcard, the signs don't match up at all.

    Michael Taylor

    1 Sep 10 at 8:07 pm

  10. Yes, this was BellB4s and it opened around 1960 or 1961. I was about nine or ten and my mother and I went there for lunch right after it opened. It was our first experience with fast food and we thought it was great. The milk shakes were an improvement over the often watery ones that wre made to order elsewhere. BellB4s came to Columbia before McDonalds.


    1 Sep 10 at 9:58 pm

  11. I used to really like the orange drink that the Bell's on Forest Drive served when I was a kid.


    1 Sep 10 at 10:18 pm

  12. I think the signs match up pretty well; same general outline.


    2 Sep 10 at 7:29 am

  13. I do know that from 1962 or 1963 through the late 70's it was Gene's Hamburgers.. If it was built before then (1960 or earlier) then I wouldnt remember since I would have been only 2 at the time.. But there are others I know and people they know that went here to this building when it was Gene's.. as said, dont know what it was before 1962-63.


    2 Sep 10 at 1:59 pm

  14. Del,

    All I can say is this and this:


    2 Sep 10 at 3:57 pm

  15. Like the old phone book!

    DQ #6 is gone and buried beneath the 77 overpass over Garner's Ferry. grandam used to take my sister and me to get ice cream in those yellow plastic boats.


    3 Sep 10 at 7:00 am

  16. Gene's was on Blossom St. right across the river in Columbia across from the Chinese buffet restaurant.


    24 Nov 10 at 1:17 pm

  17. Bells was VERY active to the Airport High students approximately 1967-68 as I remember our coaches talking about dont get in trouble there. When McDonalds came along on Charleston Hwy that took away Bells Business...but for a few short years it Bells was ringing in West Columbia with Airport High Students.


    21 Feb 11 at 1:39 pm

  18. Bell's Hamburgers was started by the same guy who started Taco Bell.


    6 Oct 11 at 12:30 pm

  19. This is an old thread, but just to re-iterate, this was a Bell's Hamburgers place. I grew up right down the road from here. Bell's was the first place I ever had a fast food hamburger, in the mid 60's before we got any McDonalds in the area.

    Bobby G

    25 Apr 13 at 1:46 pm

  20. this was always bells hamburgers . gene broome always copied other restaurants. ponderosa steak barn or bonanza
    steak barn i dont remember which was his, lums he copied
    with frankensteins.
    bill allen was the manager at bells. i worked there while i was going to usc.for about 19 mos in 66-67


    18 May 13 at 10:12 am

  21. this was always bells hamburgers . gene broome always copied other restaurants. ponderosa steak barn or bonanza
    steak barn i dont remember which was his, lums he copied
    with frankensteins.
    bill allen was the manager at bells. i worked there while i was going to usc.for about 19 mos in 66-67


    18 May 13 at 10:12 am

  22. This Bells chain was not related in any way to the west coast Taco Bell/Bells chain.They came earlier i think. Bells was Headquartered in Charlotte NC.There were locations in Raleigh,Charlotte,Columbia, Myrtle Beach?Ashville NC There might have been others I cannot remember.The Charlotte Bells is now Zacks I think


    9 Jul 13 at 4:43 pm

  23. Robby is correct, the Taco Bell founder had previously run a burger place called Bell's, but this was only in California. I can find virtually nothing on the net about the Bells chain here in the southeast during the 1960's. I can confirm there was a Bells Hamburgers in Myrtle Beach during this time frame.

    Bobby G

    17 Oct 13 at 11:17 am

  24. This was Bell's. I worked there from 1972 - 1975. They were all owned by Mr. Bell. He sold this one in Approximately 1974, *It changed names to Daddy's Deli. The Bell was removed from the sign. It closed about a year later. You walked up to the window to order. Most people ate in their car but there were picnic tables on both sides.


    1 Nov 15 at 4:58 pm

  25. This was Bell's. I worked there from 1972 - 1975. They were all owned by Mr. Bell. He sold this one in Approximately 1974, *It changed names to Daddy's Deli. The Bell was removed from the sign. It closed about a year later. You walked up to the window to order. Most people ate in their car but there were picnic tables on both sides.


    1 Nov 15 at 4:58 pm

  26. I have not seen this post before but, I would love to own a little burger stand that looks exactly like it. The pictures remind me of Rosewood Dairy Bar.
    I love a good Rosewood Dairy Bar burger now and again.
    I believe Rosewood Dairy Bar to be affiliated with Zesto's in some way, as I have eaten there in the past and my drink was served in a Zesto cup.
    I also think their burgers taste a lot like Zesto.'s burgers.


    1 Nov 15 at 5:23 pm

  27. @Rick - one of my fantasies would be to own a little joint like Edna's or the Rosewood Dairy Bar. Nothing fancy in the least bit. No indoor seating, mine will be an old fashioned walk-up and order. I'd put a few picnic tables around for people that want to stay and eat. Give me two or three deep friers, a seasoned flat top griddle, a commercial freezer and refrigerator and I'm good to go. Simple menu, burgers and deep fried hot dogs, french fries and onion rings. Maybe a good fried fish or chicken sandwich and a 1/4 lb. deep fried bologna sandwich for good measure. And if I could figure out a way to sell them as cheap as Edna's and still make a profit, all the better!!


    2 Nov 15 at 3:03 am

  28. Homer, hurry up and open that joint. I am getting hungry.

    Joe Shlabotnik

    3 Nov 15 at 6:38 pm

  29. @Homer - A deep fried 1/4 pound bologna sandwich?
    Are you kidding? That would be a slab of bologna as big as a quarter pounder at McDonalds. Holy shit. And then I'd have to take one.
    Or as George Carlin said "Take a shit? Not me, I'm leaving one."


    3 Nov 15 at 6:58 pm

  30. @Joe and Rick - if I had the available cash and the patience to go through all of the bureaucratic BS that goes with opening a place like this I would in a heartbeat. But since my 401K lost $20K last quarter, it's not gonna happen anytime soon!!

    Rick, that is one George Carlin joke that always stuck with me!

    I fixed fried bologna sandwiches Sunday night. I put about a half inch of oil in a cast iron skillet and fried up a bunch of thick cut Oscar Mayer bologna until they were totally charred on the outside. Put a couple of slices on a toasted hamburger bun with mayonnaise, Sriracha, lettuce, onion and my last fresh tomatoes from the garden. Nothing but good!!!

    Stay tuned, as I am going to post a couple more stories related to restaurants and food in the next couple of days.


    4 Nov 15 at 2:19 am

  31. It is not easy to open a business any more. Especially when prepared foods are involved. DHEC permits, local permits, insurance and city/county taxes. It is no wonder a decent sandwich costs several dollars. And if the minimum wage is pushed to double digits.....look out entrepreneurs. Matching SS payments on payroll will break you.
    Then through all the worry you have to ask yourself "Why am I working so hard when I am only allowed to keep a small percentage of gross sales"?

    Joe Shlabotnik

    4 Nov 15 at 4:24 am

  32. The other issue with opening an eating place aside from what Joe spoke to is that it typically requires long hours of the owners and that takes a does play a role in why some restaurants fail.

    I actually shy away from restaurants that don't have a sitting area (that's a major reason why I shy away from Sonic) and sometimes I wish pizza places such as Domino's, Papa John's, Little Cæsars, etc. had more interior seating.


    4 Nov 15 at 11:39 am

  33. When I worked for PMSC in Blythewood back in the 80's there was hardly any place to eat without driving all the way back to Dentsville.

    There were two guys that opened a little burger joint in a concrete block building that was directly across Hwy.21 from PMSC. It was called The Lunch Box.

    I still remember the names of the two guys that ran it, Will and Nelson. Who could forget that pair of names together?

    Now get this setup. All they had in the kitchen were two refrigerators, one for food and one for beer and soft drinks, two electric griddles, a two burner hot plate and a microwave.

    They had a simple menu, hamburgers, french fries or potato chips. They would go to the grocery store every morning and pick up enough food, beer and soft drinks to make it through the day.

    The burgers were awesome. They put at least a half pound of meat on them and enough fixings to float a boat. The fries were cooked up in a skillet on top of the hot plate. Once a week Nelson's wife would cook up a huge pot of New England clam chowder and they served it for something like $1.00 a bowl. The burgers were dirt cheap as well.

    You could go there after work for 'happy hour' and drink all the beer you wanted for a $1.00 a can. I don't know how these guys ever passed an inspection (maybe no one knew they were even there). I know they never made much, if any, of a profit off of the place. They did have a rather lucrative side business that had to do with wacky tobaccy, but I wouldn't know anything about that stuff....ahem. Fun times......


    5 Nov 15 at 12:48 am

  34. The Bell's at 1040 Meeting Street opened in April 1962 and closed in 1974 or 1975. The building was demolished in 2014.

    Paul Armstrong

    12 Sep 19 at 12:54 pm

  35. The Bell's on Meeting street was where my Dad would go on Friday after work in the 60's to pick up food for the family. I went with him numerous times. No drive thru. Walk up to the building and order.

    Beth H

    7 Nov 21 at 9:39 pm

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