Diners, Drive-By’s and Dives: Cupp’s Drive-Inn

The diner is located at the corner of Speight Ave. and 15th Street. Photo credit: Rebecca Flannery

Happiness is a diner mug filled with fresh coffee intermittently between sips. It’s an over-hard egg next to buttered toast and three strips of bacon. It’s a conversation with a frequent customer sitting at the bar as you wait for your food to be prepared before your eyes. Happiness is Cupp’s Drive-Inn.

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Breakfast is served with jelly and syrup. Cups of coffee are filled as you sip. Photo credit: Rebecca Flannery

For those who have driven by and wondered if their food is worth the cramped space, rest assured it is. The shop itself isn’t much larger than a single-wide trailer. With four booths on the right of the diner and bar seating on the left, finding a seat is left to you. It’s a no-fuss place where, as if we were in an episode of “Cheers,” everybody knows your name.

Sitting down next to a regular at the bar, I could tell I was well out of my league. The bar was scattered with those who called the cooks by their first names. Freddy and Sherry Johnson are their names, and they share ownership of the establishment. By the way, they knew all the customers by the same first-name standard. As I was conversing with the customers, I began to understand Cupp’s had just as much history and charm as those sitting around the place.

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Freddy Johnson, owner and cook, prepares burgers for onlooking customers. Photo credit: Rebecca Flannery

Carl Rice has been coming to Cupp’s since 1955. He said he comes about three times a week with his brother, and that the food never disappoints.

“When I was coming here in ’55, the only thing that was different about the place was that the burgers cost 25 cents,” he said.

As I picked my jaw up off the counter, Rice told me about the picture frames on the doorpost of the diner. The gallery begins with the Heaton family when in 1929 the diner was called Heaton’s Eatin’s. When it was bought later by the Price’s, the name changed along with it. It wasn’t until 1947 that Mr. and Mrs. Cupp bought the place, then dubbing it Cupp’s Drive-Inn. Up until about 15 years ago, carhops would bring food straight out to the cars who honked, Rice said.

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Mr. and Mrs. Cupp look into their diner from the doorpost every day. Photo credit: Rebecca Flannery

As I got down to the risky business of picking a meal from the tried and true menu, I couldn’t help but think how nice toast sounded. Somehow I knew it would be better than any piece of bread I could put in a toaster at home. It came accompanied with an egg and three pieces of bacon – which were brilliantly executed in all of their diner glory. Cooked straight in butter.

Eating bites of my friend’s pancake from across the table, I felt in my bones that this diner just understands what people need. Every bite is exactly what you need to fuel your day.

And breakfast isn’t even what they’re known for. Customers started ordering burgers and hand-cut fries as soon as the clock hit 11 in the morning – the time Cupp’s stops serving breakfast. Rice advocated the delicacy. He said no where else in Waco serves a better burger or cares as much about fries to actually cut them by hand each morning. Oh, and the onion rings, he said we can’t exclude those.

Overall, this diner exceeds the expectations of my Guy Fieri-spirited embodiment. There’s a reason this diner has been open for 86 years. Raise your diner mug to 86 more.