Jim and Gladys Casey, a Pennsylvania-Nebraska couple were the owners of the Dixie BBQ in South Williamsport from 1938 until 1972. The restaurant closed permanently when Jim became disabled.
As young as 15, Jim began a career that led him across the country from Nebraska to Canandaigua, New York to Muncy, Pennsylvania and eventually South Side. He worked in farm fields, truck farms, the daily newspaper; learning skills along the way that would eventually enhance his business success. But Jim’s true passion was to become a restaurant owner. While living in Muncy, the couple sold hot dogs in a small main street store until the Great Depression forced the local bank to close and the rippling effect on Jim’s small business. He moved to South Williamsport and worked at the Williamsport Sun Gazette. The family moved into a home on Southern Avenue but before they finished unpacking moving boxes, the 1936 Flood interrupted their plans. Jim’s truck did become a valued asset in helping the community’s cleanup efforts during those early days in the flood’s aftermath; just one of the many efforts for his town that he would contribute over the years that he spent in South Side.
The Depression Era was a strong force that hit the country but Jim and Gladys were stronger and his dream became a reality when a South Side bike shop was transformed into the Dixie Barbecue on the edge of town; a restaurant that opened for business in 1938. Jim singlehanded redesigned the building into a well equipped kitchen, built highly polished wooden tables and chairs and installed floor-to-ceiling glass window panes. An outside cement BBQ pit for preparing meats, Gladys’s relish and custom made rolls launched the Dixie.
When World War II started in 1941, major changes forced the Dixie to close for a while. Ration stamps made restaurant foods especially difficult to obtain, but eventually, Jim and Gladys’s friends, Fry Bros. Turkey Ranch owners, made it possible to reopen. The turkey BBQ was a challenge but bread filling, a layer of turkey topped by homemade relish restarted the Dixie. Even WWII gas rations didn’t stop customers from traveling to the restaurant. Often, groups arrived by straw-filled wagons pulled by a team of horses.
From the beginning, the Dixie was a family venture. Daughter, Orvene, donned a car hop uniform in 1943 and her son Charles was teaching newly hired car hops their duties by age 12. Car hops became a popular attraction during the late 40s and 50s. Customers pulled up to Dixie’s Drive In, waiters and waitresses ordered from the driver’s side window and their food was delivered on trays that attached to a rolled down window. Car hops even handled cash payments, all while the customers remained in the comfort of their cars, often while the car radio played the latest top hits of the day.
In March 1959, a fire in the restaurant’s roof and marque temporarily halted business but a quick rebuilt restored South Side’s “hot spot” Dixie. It’s been said that many first dates and marriages began at the Dixie, sisters and brothers worked as car hops and the locally known Dr. June Baskin, Williamsport School District Art teacher, started her working days as a Dixie Car Hop.
Eventually, the Casey couple decided to close the restaurant during winter months and finally take long overdue vacation time. The Dixie closed permanently when Jim was disabled. He sold the restaurant and several new owners were unable to restore the popular drive in’s reputation.
The Dixie’s legacy will continue to bring memories to many, thanks to one man’s dream and his family’s belief in his enterprising spirit.