Foster’s Freeze in Manteca has a 54-year history, but the presence of a drive-through restaurant at the corner of Yosemite and Walnut avenues dates back to the 1930s.
Back then, the local hotspot was called the Big Apple, complete with a single carhop.
C. M. Williford had long-admired the Giant Orange juice and snack stands he saw along Highway 99 and wanted to create something similar on the western edge of town. After he had created the basic round structure, a franchise agent stopped to ask about his franchise.
He didn’t have one, forcing to Williford to alter his plans.
Williford traded his orange paint for red and changed the name from Giant Orange to Big Apple, serving much of the same drinks including cider and milk shakes. To the rear of the business he built small frame cottages and provided an adjacent corner for the Rowe Hardware Store – Vin Rowe was a brother-in-law. To this day the street behind the Foster’s Freeze building is named Williford Street.
It was in 1960 that the late Vel Branscum of Fresno convinced the Foster’s Freeze corporate office that there was enough traffic on Yosemite Avenue to support a franchise at the Manteca location.
He had his daughters sit on the corner of Yosemite and Walnut and count cars for hours. Back then, Yosemite Avenue was the main Highway 120 corridor from the Bay Area to the Mother Lode.
“Dad had the foresight to see that buses were going to come from the Bay Area. He gave bus drivers a free meal and they had a big lot to use for parking. My sister and I didn’t like it. When the buses would come, he would yell ‘bus’ and didn’t care if we were with a boyfriend, he wanted everyone served fast,” daughter Cindy Tokheim said. They lived close by on Virginia Street so they were always available at his beckon call.
She recalled that she and her sister, Sherry, were first assigned to cleaning the toilets. “By my senior year in high school I had become head cook,” she quipped. “Mom would go down early in the morning before anyone was there and drop corn dogs into the batter.”
Foster’s Freeze and Ed’s Patio a mile to the east served as the cruising route for teens in their dragsters on hot, summer evenings. The pastime is captured in the downtown mural in the 100 block of North Main Street on the side of the Accent Carpet building.
Teenagers would get into beefs in the parking lots of the two hamburger stands and Branscum was looked upon as the peacemaker, walking into the middle of an unruly bunch of kids and calmly telling them to get over it. That worked, according to Tokheim, but often the mal contents would continue mixing it up at the other end of the cruise route.
Cindy and her husband Joel were married in 1973 and the eatery was sold a year later to Jim and Juanita Anderson. Now it is operated by a couple from India, Bhupinder Singh and his wife Kaur Rajwinder.
Today, Foster’s Freeze is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. and features pretty much have the same menu today. The owners say that strawberry, chocolate and vanilla Sundays are the most popular along with root beer floats, banana splits with all real fruits – no syrups.