by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG- Last Thursday a piece of Walsenburg’s history burned, bringing sadness to three generations and sparking memories of good times past. Tes’ Drive-In, an icon of drive-in eateries, was familiar to locals and travelers from across the countryside.
Opened over 65 years ago, long before I-25 bypassed town, this small ice cream stand was a prominent fixture on the hill. It was originally called Porter’s Dairy Drive-In and was just what hot and weary travelers needed before they made their way north, south, west, or east.
The name change to Tes’ came much later. Anthony (Tony) Tesitor, like so many others of his generation, lived the life of a miner, first as worker, then co-owner of the Taylor Coal Mining Company along with my father Carl, and my uncle Sam Taylor. When the mines began closing, Tony needed a business he could work with his wife Jo. The Porters’ stand was the perfect choice. So, in late 1958 my Uncle Tony purchased the little drive in from Charles and Mary Porter and began the Tes’ dynasty.
After a couple of years Tony remodeled the little place, adding a patio in the back for hungry travelers to stop and take a break. He later added a kitchen, and transformed it into a food service stand. He had heard about Ray Kroc, a businessman in California with a restaurant called McDonald’s. Tony knew Kroc was on to something, and decided to do the same- offer hot fast food to his walk in clientele at an affordable price.
From the beginning, Tony paid attention to the details. The food needed to be consistent, so recipes and quality control did not change. Hey was also revolutionary in his concepts. He had been accepting phone-in orders since he began serving food, and put in a drive through in 1964 so that all his call-in customers needed to do was drive through and pick up their food.
And what food it was! Aunt Jo’s sloppy joe burgers were the best in town. They could never make it fast enough. In fact, her secret recipe was kept secret even from her employees. She’d make a batch of her hamburger concoction at home then bring it into work. Another innovation was the Pumper Special. Tony, nicknamed Pumper, made these sausage delicacies on a Kaiser roll using the finest locally produced Ugolini-Bellotti sausage. To make food affordable, he had 25 cent hamburger Wednesdays with 15 cent fries and 10 cent cokes.
My cousins, Greg and Valerie Tesitor worked the stand. This was their summer time job, making it truly a family affair. My sisters, and many others who grew up in Walsenburg in the sixties and seventies, also worked for Tes’ at one time or another. Tony was a stickler for details and a hard man to work for. Everything needed to be spotless. Employees worked hard, but the benefits of snacking on fresh, hot fries right out the fryer or spoonfuls of hot fudge were worth the extra effort. When he added Mexican food to the menu, he hired Mrs. Pacheco and Mrs. Sally Bachicha. The restaurant’s reputation for having the best green chili in town grew.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s the A&W root beer stand moved to town, and the BK fast food franchise opened where the Safeway store is now. Both of them ultimately closed, and Tes’ prevailed. Up until then the only other hamburger stands were JK’s and Mondo’s. By the end of the 70s, Tes’ stood tall.
Everyone I spoke with had some memories of this landmark while growing up. I remember ditching Mr. DeVan’s class, which was right after lunch to play pinball at Tes’. A big surprise was when I convinced the girl I was dating at the time to ditch Mr. Kynion’s physics class and go with me. She still managed to graduate as valedictorian, and later I convinced her to become my wife.
After Aunt Jo and Uncle Tony died, my cousins sold the business to Nick and Anne Morelli in 1978. While the Morellis kept the name, they created their own traditions along the way.
To be continued next week.