Cat Cuisine: Vista Drive In serves up students and community history

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Vista Burger is a staple restaurant in Manhattan. Their different options and atmosphere – whether you buy from the restaurant or the food truck – change the community surrounding it. (Conrad Kabus | Collegian Media Group)

Vista Drive In was established in 1964 in Manhattan, and since then has dished out stories about family, burgers, Kansas State students and even Bill Murray.

The current owners of Vista Drive In endow the restaurant as Manhattan’s original mom-and-pop drive in, and although the surrounding area has evolved, the basic principle for Vista has always stayed the same.

“How we cook our burger is done exactly the same today as it was when we opened in 1964,” Brad Streeter said. Brad and his wife Karen Streeter oversee the operations of Vista Drive In.

The history

Brad chuckled when he was asked about the history of the original Manhattan mom-and-pop drive in.

“This’ll take 30 minutes,” Brad said.

Brad’s father, Charles Streeter, sold ICEE machines to restaurants in the late ’50s to early ’60s. After Charles started having trouble with sales, the family decided to sell the frozen treat at concession stands at local events and discovered that selling the ICEEs was more profitable than selling the machine itself. The Streeter family took the experience garnered from all of the restaurants Charles had traveled to while selling ICEE machines to create Vista Drive In.

Brad was 14 years old on the first day the restaurant opened, and he remembers the many hiccups the family had with the fledgling restaurant. But it didn’t take long to discover how to serve up fast happiness in Manhattan.

“I remember the first night we forgot to have a salt shaker,” Brad Streeter said. “It was an idea and a concept, and nobody knew what they were really doing.”

Over the years, Vista Drive In would become a high school hang out for local students, a community gathering place for breakfast clubs and the location of a first date for Mitch Holthus, the voice of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Even comedian Bill Murray once snacked at Vista Drive In while visiting one of his relatives for their graduation.

Two of Brad and Karen’s three sons are currently helping them with Vista Drive In. Andy Streeter, their oldest child, is the general manager of the Manhattan eatery. Matt Streeter, the youngest, works in the Vista Food Truck, which can be found occasionally at Bosco Plaza and other locations around town.

The menu

Although the idea and principle for Vista has remained the same since its beginnings, the menu has evolved through the years with the addition of Monster Meals for children, as well as the addition of frosty treats such as cyclones.

The chili is still made the way Charles and his wife Martha Streeter made it on their honeymoon in 1941 with hamburger, onions, red beans, tomatoes and spices. Employees still squeeze limes daily for the restaurant’s limeades, and corn dogs are also still “stuck” daily.

“Our brownies are still made from scratch,” Karen said, adding to the list of favorites she and her husband have at the restaurant.

Vista Drive In still uses Martha’s original recipe, which she taught to her home economics class in Wamego. After the school bell would ring at Wamego High School, Martha would come over to Vista Drive In to help with the restaurant. Karen, who was not yet married into the family, was in that home economics class in Wamego.

“In fact, I graded her papers,” Brad said with a laugh.

Vista and K-State

Since the conception of Vista Drive In, the restaurant has supported K-State and student organizations in the area.

The burger joint has donated items like cups, napkins and coupons to school functions. Vista received an oar from the rowing team in the early ’70s and a baseball in the ’80s from the K-State baseball team, and Vista has helped with K-State Band fundraisers. In fact, Vista Drive In plans to welcome Fake Patty’s Day goers on March 10 in conjunction with an Alpha Delta Pi philanthropy event.

“If you support the community, the community will support you,” Karen said.

Several of Vista’s employees have been K-State students in the past, including Alexsis Garles, freshmen in entrepreneurship. Garles is new to the restaurant staff and has worked with Vista Drive In for a little over a month.

“I met with Andy, the general manager, and he was super nice and said he would be super flexible with my hours, which I really needed,” Garles said. “I’m taking 18 hours this semester, so that was nice.”

Brad said employees learn how to do everything in the restaurant in the first two weeks, so they are able to engage in new things every day. Garles said adapting to the fast-paced atmosphere was a shock at first, but then it came naturally to her.

“Our goal here is to get the food out to the customer in less than five minutes, which we really pride ourselves on,” Garles said.

Vista Drive In is located at 1911 Tuttle Creek Blvd. and is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.

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News and Science Writer for the Collegian. Senior in Food Science with a Minor in Mass Communications from Topeka, Kansas. Graphic and Video Design. I cook … a lot.