The local burger joints that bear his name are a beloved part of Seattle life, and Mr. Spady was a fixture in the community, too.
Dick Spady, the namesake and co-founder of beloved local burger chain Dick’s Drive-In, died early Sunday at the age of 92.
“It’s been a good life. I’m very fortunate,” Mr. Spady told The Seattle Times on his 90th birthday in October 2013 at the original Dick’s location in Wallingford. He celebrated by handing out birthday cake and signing autographs for fans grateful for decades of burgers and fries.
Mr. Spady opened the Wallingford restaurant on Jan. 28, 1954. (He founded the company with two partners, whom he later bought out.) A hamburger cost 19 cents, and from the very beginning, Dick’s was open until 2 a.m. for those in need of late-night sustenance.
A Seattle Times story marveled at the “novel,” “new-type drive-in restaurant,” where “customers may select packaged, cooked food items to take home or arrange trayed car luncheons,” and “special kitchen equipment will enable high-volume production of a limited menu.”
Mr. Spady ultimately opened seven locations of what became a local institution. After Wallingford came Broadway (established 1955), Holman Road (1960), Lake City (1963) and Queen Anne (1974, and the only location with indoor seating).
After more than 115,000 people voted in an online poll, Edmonds was selected as the site for the most recent addition to the chain. It opened to much fanfare in 2011, as the first new Dick’s in nearly four decades. A little-remembered Bellevue location opened in 1965 and is the only outlet that eventually closed. (Dick’s Hamburgers in Spokane is not part of the Seattle-area company.)
A longtime fixture of Seattle life, Dick’s has been celebrated by artists such as Sir Mix-A-Lot, Macklemore and Blue Scholars. In 2012, it was declared America’s “Most Life-Changing Burger Joint” in an online Esquire poll, carrying 56 percent of the vote and besting hamburger heavyweights In-N-Out and Five Guys.
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Throughout the years, Mr. Spady took pride in offering the highest pay in the industry — well above minimum wage — as well as providing 100 percent paid health-insurance coverage (part-time employees included) and giving more than $1 million in scholarships to employees.
A 2012 Seattle mayoral proclamation for “Dick’s Drive-In Day” noted that the company boasted the lowest turnover rate in the industry, and that at the time, it had provided more than $1 million “to support local homeless charities, disaster-relief efforts around the world, and public-engagement efforts in Seattle, King County and now statewide.”
Mr. Spady’s public efforts included sponsoring a 2007 initiative that led to his founding and funding of the Community Forums Network, a program to facilitate the involvement of regular citizens in public-policy decisions. His son, Jim Spady, said of the program in 2008, “We’re very excited. Dad’s been working on this for a long time. He loves this as much as he loves burgers, fries and shakes. That’s a lot.”
Jim Spady recently took on the presidency of Dick’s Drive-In, and the Spady family continues to own the company. Other than possibly opening more branches locally, they plan no changes. (There are no additional Dick’s locations in the offing at this time.)
Richard Jack Spady was born in Portland on Oct. 15, 1923. He worked as a telegraph operator for the Union Pacific Railroad, then served in the Navy in World War II, attended Oregon State University on the G.I. Bill, and was a commissary officer in the Korean War, a post which he credited with teaching him a great deal about how to run a restaurant.
In Seattle, the Spady family lived on Capitol Hill and then on Lake Sammamish. Mr. Spady was active in his church, and he was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the University of Russia’s Open University of Education, “for contributions to Russian democracy and higher education.”
Mr. Spady is survived by his wife, Ina Lou; besides Jim, sons John, Walt and Doug; and daughter Carol; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.