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70-yr-old PICK-QUICK Drive In could be in Sound Transit’s demolition path

PICK-QUICK Drive In has served up burgers and milkshakes from its Fife location since 1949. (Photo courtesy of PICK-QUICK)

When PICK-QUICK Drive In first opened its doors in Fife, World War II had just ended and the country had 48 states.

The family-run burger joint has pleased taste buds from its Pacific Highway East location since 1949.

But that may soon change, thanks to Sound Transit.

PICK-QUICK sits directly in one of two proposed paths for Sound Transit’s light rail expansion from Federal Way to Tacoma. The line, which includes a stop in Fife, is part of the agency’s $54 billion Sound Transit 3 plan, approved by voters in 2016.

One of the paths would run along the path of I-5, just to the north of the freeway, where a line of car dealerships currently sits.

Sound Transit wants to demolish new Kent Dick’s Drive-In

The other would see the rail line run along Pacific Highway, threatening not just PICK-QUICK, but dozens of other businesses, according to Don Nelson, who co-owns the restaurant with his family members.

Both would involve using eminent domain to purchase private property, since there is no Washington State Department of Transportation right-of-way available.

“We originally had been told that [the Pacific Highway] route would be preferred, and the other route would be set aside while the first route was studied,” Nelson explained to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “Now it looks like in the final route, they will look at both equally, which hopefully will work in our favor.”

Sound Transit expects to settle on a route in 2022. Service on the route is slated to begin in 2030, according to the agency’s long-term plan.

The PICK-QUICK legacy

If PICK-QUICK is forced out of the neighborhood by the light rail line, Nelson said it will leave a huge void in the community.

Despite the proliferation of well-known chain restaurants and the challenges of running a mom-n-pop, PICK-QUICK has managed to thrive, even opening locations in Auburn and Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of competition down the street from us — every fast-food place that you can think of is in our neighborhood,” Nelson said. “But we’ve managed to weather the storm and we’re certainly one of the most unique food service establishments on the Pacific Highway strip.”

It is that special, personal touch that Nelson believes makes PICK-QUICK stand out from the chains. Fries and vegetables are hand-cut every morning, and raspberries from Puyallup’s Sterino Farm in Puyallup enhance sundaes and milkshakes. The variety of food options ensures no one goes hungry, with the small business offering chicken burgers for non-beef-eaters and garden burgers for vegetarians. If 24 shake flavors — ranging from root beer to pineapple to caramel and even to birthday cake for PICK-QUICK’s 70th — are not enough to satisfy a patron, Nelson said employees will make any flavor combination, such as chocolate and banana.

“Everything that we serve is made to order — nothing goes on the grill until it’s ordered,” Nelson said.

It is a true family-owned eatery, with all of the family members pitching in alongside employees in the restaurant every day. Nelson said the business has truly been a “fountain of youth” for his 84-year-old father-in-law.

Since the news of Sound Transit’s plans came out, the community has rallied around the hamburger joint with messages of support. One customer wrote that she took her late father to PICK-QUICK for his birthday lunch every year. Now that he is gone, the beloved burger restaurant helps her to remember her dad.

“This is a 70-year-old icon, not just of the Fife area, but of Puget Sound … we know we’ve made a difference to a lot of people,” Nelson said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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