Mearle’s Drive-In hopes to shine its neon lights on Visalia once again

A Visalia family plans to build an exact replica of Mearle’s College Drive-In, set with a drive-in theater connected to the back of the diner and a classic 50’s flair

VISALIA – The historic Mearle’s College Drive-in that once served three generations of Visalians over the span of 60 years is going to hit Visalia once again with the help of the George family.

Cris George and his family have set out to rebuild a nearly exact replica of Mearle’s College Drive-In. The drive-in was a diner adorned with neon lights and 50’s flair that was nestled on Mooney Boulevard. The idea is to rebuild the drive-in on South Mooney Boulevard in Visalia. The family has been working with  the Visalia Planning Department to submit plans for review. Once submitted and if approved, residents can expect the completion of the new Mearle’s in roughly two years. 

As Visalia’s culture has shifted, along with the rest of the world, the city has grown accustomed to fast-paced, overpriced food and a lack of family-friendly activities, according to Cris George. He said his family endeavor is to not only revive Mearle’s, but use it as a way to bring back the small-town community and prices to Visalia.

“We’re trying to get it as close to the original Mearle’s as we can. There will be some changes, but we’re trying to keep them minimal because we want to bring back that exact feeling,” Cris George said, “We’re trying to get an LED equivalent [of the sign] to have the arrows and the milkshake come down the sign, just like Mearle’s.”

John George, Cris George’s grandfather, started a roofing business 87 years ago in Visalia, Calif. He worked closely with Visalia’s beloved Mearle’s Drive-In. John was a regular at Mearle’s, eating breakfast and lunch in the now historic diner, and even hosting his business meetings there, according to Cris George. After Mearle’s closed, the nostalgia that Mearle’s brought to Visalia slowly faded into the background. Fast forward to 2022, and his children are all setting out to revive the historic diner.

“Visalia has expanded so fast, but it still has that small town feeling, and we want to keep that,” Cris George said. “We don’t want big business to move in here and shut everybody out and be cut throat. We want to keep the same small businesses, the same families. We firmly believe that we want to reinvest our money back in our community.”

The entire project will be headed by the George family’s two businesses: J.F. Enterprises Inc. and the George Family Trust. The plan is to build a replica of Mearle’s on the other end of Mooney Boulevard, nearing the city of Tulare. If all goes according to plan, the new Mearle’s will be a twin of the first one, just modernized as far as the kitchen and other appliance updates go.

Attached to the back of the diner will be a drive-in theater that will be free of charge with up to 100 parking spots. Rollin George, Cris George’s uncle and president of J.F. Enterprises Inc., has been updating the public on their progress through the Mearle’s College Drive-In Facebook page. 

“It’s not our plan to charge to see a movie, but rather create a nostalgic ‘family’ experience that for a couple of hours will transport us back into a simpler time. Good food, great memories and a flick to bring it all together,” Rollin George said in a social media post.

In addition to making the moving showings free, the George family is also hoping to make the food in the diner affordable. The menu will be very similar to the original, and Cris George said that they are aiming to keep the prices at the very lowest possible.

“We want to make sure that these meals can stay at eight or nine bucks, whereas anywhere else you’re going is 20 bucks a head. So in order to do that, we’ve realized that we will have to run it ourselves, and just take that out of the [profit],” Cris George said.

Rollin George had updated people on social media that they have revised the building plans at least four times. Currently, the blueprints for the building are going through revisions, and the interior design is in the works as well. However, he said that the blueprints are very similar to the original layout and design. 

“Our vision is to replicate the original Mearle’s, while adhering to current building standards. So that’s why the kitchen had to move to the back,” Rollin George stated. “Mearles on Mooney will add a drive thru as well as walk up ordering and side pickup of food. 

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