Back to the Present: Bell's Drive-In
With all the crazy, delicious ideas that people have for burgers, sometimes it’s nice to go back to the basics. The kind of burgers you’d eat at a burger joint late at night with your friends after the day's shenanigans are over, or, that first date, when you’re both unsure of each other but both have that little flutter in your chest. A burger, fries, and a milkshake make appearances throughout our lives, the memorable days and the normal ones.
Bell’s Drive-In sits in the same spot since it opened on July 22nd, 1954. Not much has changed since then. They still get their beef delivered in the morning. They still brew their sweet tea on the stovetop. They still only take cash because credit cards didn’t exist in 1954. Small evolutions have happened, however. With the original building, customers couldn’t even come in so when the building burned down and was rebuilt in the ‘60s, a small bar was added with 5 or 6 barstools. It was in the ‘90s that they added the back dining room, filled with booths and tables.
Founded by Farris Bells, Bell’s Drive-In wasn’t a serious endeavor. “He just built this as like a hobby” Tammy Taylor, a manager, shared, “There used to be a house on the other side of the building” where the parking lot now is “and that was where he lived." Mr. Farris’ main occupation was as an owner of a dry-goods store in town. The drive-in has stayed in the family, passing down from father to his children. Judy Cothren, Farris’ daughter, owns Bell’s now, coming out of retirement and jumping right back into it.
There’s nothing really fancy on the menu. Everything’s pretty inexpensive, but it doesn’t taste that way. It’s part of the reason why they’ve been in the business so long. “I think the biggest thing is that it’s all so fresh. We do all our own barbequing… All our hamburgers are made by hand, fresh every day.” Tammy explained, “Everything is the way he (Mr. Farris) started it." She thinks that’s why Bell’s has been around for as long as it has been and why it’s won so many awards; it’s taken the Tennesseean’s best burger and milkshakes in West Tennessee for 20 years. During the week, the dining room fills up at lunchtime.
Bell’s Drive-In is a part of Henderson and people keep coming back. “I think people would be upset if Bell’s closed down!” Tammy laughed. Bell’s has been a fabric of her life as well. “I met my husband here. He would come to the window and order a large cup of ice and all the girls would be like—because he left a big tip—a large tip with a large cup of ice, everybody knew him for that. They were like ‘I’m getting him! I’m getting him!’ cause he left a big tip...until they found out that he was coming to see me and did not have the nerve to ask me out." It’s like something out of a movie. The staff witnessed anniversaries, first dates, proposals, and children experiencing Bell’s and hearing their parents’ stories that began in the dining room.
If the stories that arose from Bell’s are good, the food is even better. The single cheeseburgers need to be smashed down to get a bite in, not even mentioning how big the double cheeseburgers are. The french fries, crinkle cut, are hot. If you aren’t feeling in the mood for french fries, you can also order onion rings, tater tots, and baked beans.
It takes about an hour for the dining room to fill up. “On weekends, a lot of times, there’s people standing outside waiting to get in,” Tammy revealed, “Then, we have some people who come in so often, we’ll follow right behind them with their drinks, because, we know—for sure—what they’re drinking and that happens a lot." Bell’s shows no signs of slowing down. Within half an hour, most of the back dining room was filled. The waitresses chatted with people they know. Time seems slower, with the records on the walls, and the comfy booths. Bell’s comfort stems from the nostalgia, even if it’s your first time there, you feel it!
Bell’s Drive-In is open Monday through Thursday, 10 am to 10 pm. The hours on Friday and Saturday are 10 am to 11 pm and they’re closed on Sundays. Their number is (731) 989-2816. If you’re even thinking of driving down I-40 near Jackson, their address is 204 S. Church Street, Henderson, 38340.