Spring Valley's 'novelty' A&W drive-in closes out the family tradition after 67 years

“It had its own niche; it's something nobody else had. It’s an experience,” Mark Simpson said of the drive-in experience. The Simpson family owned the Spring Valley A&W for 60 years.

Spring Valley A&W Cruise Night.jpg
The Simpson A&W Drive-In hosted cruise nights, which boasted upwards of 400 cars for the community gathering, in Spring Valley. The A&W opened in 1956 and closed in 2023.
Contributed / Kathy Simpson

SPRING VALLEY — Orange seats. Checkered floors. A car hop service. The 1950s long lived through the root beer frosted mug service, poodle skirts and teenagers counting back change.

With its retro style, this “little place” in Spring Valley served the community, and destination-seeking travelers for 67 years. The landmark A&W, at 730 N. Broadway Ave. on U.S. Highway 63, brought the community together from favorite food items to car shows and a photo with the Root Beer Man.

While the A&W would typically re-open in February, the Spring Valley franchise is closing. The property sale closes March 1, and an auction of the items that made the place a welcome stop for travelers includes decor, restaurant equipment and commercial kitchen equipment through Feb. 21.

As a classic A&W, former co-owner Mark Simpson might ask you, “How many drive-ins have you ever been to?” For many, Spring Valley’s A&W was their answer. The generations of memories fed into teenagers choosing the A&W as their first job. Even Tom Evanoff, who owned the A&W from 2016 to 2023, went to his first A&W drive-in experience in Spring Valley.

During the drive-in's heyday, Roger and Marjorie Simpson converted the Oaks Drive-In of Spring Valley to their Simpson’s A&W Drive-In in 1956.


“It had its own niche; it's something nobody else had. It’s an experience,” Mark said. “I've had so many people tell me, ‘Well, yeah we took our kids here,’ and then their kids would tell them they took their kids there.”

In 1950, about 450 A&Ws fizzed into the bellies of Americans. Now, there are over 1,000 locations worldwide with just seven drive-ins listed in the United States, according to the A&W website. “There just aren't a whole lot of these left anymore,” Evanoff noted.

Mark and Kathy Simpson said both the Winona and Faribault locations have drive-ins, though, not the classic style.

Spring Valley A&W Drive-In Sign.jpg
The Spring Valley A&W Drive-In at 730 N Broadway Ave on U.S. Highway 63. “It had its own niche, it's something nobody else had. It’s an experience,” said Mark Simpson, co-owner. “I've had so many people tell me, ‘Well, yeah we took our kids here’ and then their kids would tell them they took their kids there.”
Contributed / Kathy Simpson

“The big thing was the novelty of the drive-in, you know, it's kind of old school. It's something both my partner and I had grown up with and wanted to preserve that a little bit,” Evanoff said. “The Simpsons had quite a history here. They had built a car show, a cruise night that had been going for over 20 years at the time.”

Those car shows and cruise nights brought upwards of 400 cars. The project cars, with replaced engines and new paint style, brimmed from the parking lot to the highway.

“It was never about the cars specifically. It was more the love of cars,” Evanoff said. “It was more the camaraderie of just classic cars and then pairing that with the nostalgia of coming to an A&W drive-in with your old car and with the kids and getting the tray and the mug and all that fun stuff.”

The original A&W building in Spring Valley in 1956.
Contributed / Kathy Simpson

While the drive-in offered the coolest location, families also visited for Mother’s Day, the fishing opener and even to see Santa Claus. For the Simpsons, their 60-year family tradition instilled a legacy of putting the customer first and working hard. The daily list ran long between laundry, cutting grass, repairing the ice cream machine and making root beer.

“It was very demanding,” Mark described of his parents’ early years running the A&W. “They had a lot of heart.”


“(Marjorie) was really the backbone of the whole business. She was a worker,” he said.

Mark described their time with the franchise as being a “maverick in business.” He set his ideas based on what Spring Valley needed and wanted instead of corporate.

Both former owners said goodbye to the business reluctantly, knowing the A&W’s years were over. Mark said the 18-hour days were no longer possible, and Evanoff noted the challenges of finding employees. People also enjoy the convenience of drive-thrus rather than drive-ins.

“I'm sad that it's not going to stay a drive-in or a restaurant period,” Evanoff said.

The location will become an expansion of the neighboring business, Kuehn Motor Company. He added the car dealership hopes to continue the car shows.

“I'm terribly sad that it's … going bye-bye. But, you know, I understand how the economy works with COVID and everything,” Mark said. “The A&W in Spring Valley needed a lot of employees because it was a big spread out place.”

“Our picnic area was grassy, and people used to come to just walk on the grass,” Kathy said.

Root Beer Man Spring Valley A&W.jpg
The Root Beer Man was a community favorite at the Spring Valley A&W Drive-In.
Contributed / Kathy Simpson

While the original plan wasn’t to sell the A&W as “we were ready for another season,” Evanoff said finding old items has been nostalgic. He also donated old pictures, a poodle skirt, barhop tray, table and chair, and an ordering screen to the Spring Valley Historical Society.


Although people can still get their tastes of cheeseburgers, cheese curds and root beer nearby in Winona and St. Charles and Cresco, Iowa, Mark said there’s “no more A&W root beers in Spring Valley, it’s sad.”

“In my humble, biased opinion, I still think we have the best burgers, and cheese curds and onion rings,” Evanoff said. “And I'm ruined. I can't eat anywhere but A&W anymore.”

Still, it’s the people the owners will miss the most.

“What I miss really is the people I met and developed a friendship,” Kathy said. “We had a lot of people from the Mayo Clinic come through. We had a lot of (classic) car people come there. … But I really miss the people.”

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in enhancing online articles as well as education, feature and health reporting.
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