David Ervin was certain that we would be arrested at any moment.
He was about to open Louisiana’s first drive-up Daiquiri window. “I was scared to death,” he said. “I thought the next police car that drove by was going to pick me up.”
The idea of opening a shop that permitted anyone to drive up, purchase a drink in a cup without getting out of their car, and then drive off with said drink, it should be noted, was legally untested at the time.
Yes, Ervin had gone to city hall in Lafayette to inquire if what he was doing was permissible. He was told he could apply for a license for a package store, or a license for a bar. What he proposed fell in the middle. He explained his idea to a city clerk. “The lady howled,” Ervin said. “Then the other clerks all came out to look at me like I was a circus freak.”
The year was 1982. Ervin was 25-years-old and had already secured a $20,000 loan to start his first business. “Everybody I talked to told me I was an idiot,” he remembers.
But he pushed on. He installed in a simple prefab drive-up stand along a “U” shaped drive. The landowner wouldn’t let him install a paved driveway because he was certain the enterprise would quickly fail, so Ervin lined it with crushed oyster shells. “It was totally disgusting, especially after a rain,” he said.
Ervin’s “Daiquiri Factory” opened with a large backlit plastic sign that read “Drive-Thur”—it was delivered with the typo, but Ervin was eager to open and didn’t have time to send it back. (“Anyway, it was like six months before anyone said anything,” he said.) In the first hours after opening, nearly no one showed up. At nightfall, the curious started to drift in. “At first, customers didn’t recognize the drive-through service feature,” Ervin wrote in an unpublished memoir. “They drove in, parked and walked up to the store and stared at me through the windows. I had to go outside and tell everyone to return to the cars, form a line, place their order at the menu sign and drive through for service.”
Word soon got around. Cars lined up before the 8 AM opening, and lines persisted until he closed after midnight. “I couldn’t have drawn more traffic if I had been walking around nude,” Ervin said.
It wasn’t long after he opened that the people in city hall stopped laughing. And then the police took notice.
Ervin had gotten the initial idea for a drive-thru bar a few years earlier when he was a forestry student at Louisiana Tech in Ruston. Forests bored him; a class on the psychology of marketing did not. Also, he liked drinking with his fraternity brothers. The college was in a dry parish, so he had to travel down the road to Wilmart, a store just over the line in a wet parish, for supplies.
Wilmart’s owner had scored a deal on a pallet of canned Tequila Sunrise cocktails. “It was the nastiest cocktail they made,” Ervin said. “And they weren’t selling. So, he was just trying to figure out a way to get rid of them.” The owner poured them in a slushy machine and partially froze them. Customers liked this, and clamored for more. The owner added four other flavors and opened a bar in the corner of his store. He called it the Frosty Factory.
“It was just a Eureka moment for me,” Ervin said. “This was unbelievable. It took like five seconds to fill up a cup.” Essentially, anyone who had worked at a Dairy Queen was qualified to be a slushy bartender.
Ervin also saw that nobody went to the Frosty Factory for the ambience or the welcoming vibe. They bought their frozen drinks and left. “I saw that as a problem because you couldn’t achieve any speed,” Ervin said. He envisioned a way to expedite the whole process: add a drive through window.
Ervin started working up a business plan, building his bar concept around the drive-thru window. “I was the joke of campus,” he recalled. “People would holler out, ‘Hey Dave, you got that Daiquiri thing started yet? You’re going to jail the first ten minutes you do that.’”
Ervin worked out the full-sized layout of his first shop in the dark, with chalk. “I went out to a parking lot in the middle of the night and drew it out to make sure I got it right,” he said. Efficiency was foremost among Ervin’s concerns. He didn’t want any wasted movement, so he designed his shop such that if he nailed an employee’s foot to the floor they would still able to reach everything they needed. “Speed is money,” Ervin said.
Then he moved on to developing his drinks. “We had just done some case studies on Baskin-Robbins and their 31 flavors,” he said.” If they had just focused on the flavors that had any real volume, they wouldn’t have had any identity. So, I figured, I’ve got to have at least 15 flavors.” He made up drinks with fresh blackberries and fresh strawberries. He mixed up bourbon with cola and froze that. He concocted a frozen whiskey sour and a frozen Tom Collins.
But what to call his drinks? Frosty and slushy were taken. He considered other names, but settled on “Daiquiri.”
“I was trying to think of something that suggested sensuality,” he said, “and the word Daiquiri just sounded sexy.” Yes, David Ervin is to blame for everyone calling every frozen drink a “Daiquiri.”
From the first night, business at his little stand boomed. He often slept in his store, exhausted, and then would wake to find a line waiting when he opened the next morning. He was so busy he didn’t even have time to hire staff or get to the bank to deposit the cash in the first few weeks. When he did make it home, he lugged empty liquor boxes full of money. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash,” he said. Four weeks after he opened, he paid cash for an El Camino to help haul ingredients to his stand.
Before long, the police started leaning on his enterprise. They sent underaged decoys through trying to buy drinks. Ervin hired someone to sit on a stool with a flashlight and check IDs of everyone in the car.
Police then set up shop at the end of his drive and started pulling over those leaving to test them for sobriety. “People on line saw that and just drove off,” Ervin said, and business started to wane. So, Ervin started offering frozen lemonade as well, for 25 cents, raising doubt whether those who drove off his property had alcohol in their vehicle. Fearing lawsuits over harassment, police eased up.
The city council then passed an ordinance making it illegal to drive with an open container in a car. Ervin sought clarification on how they defined open container. No one at the city would tell him. Ervin decided to define a sealed container himself, and then let the courts work it out. He alerted the media that he would reveal his newly invented sealed container the same day the ordinance took effect.
Reporters and cameramen from around the state swarmed his stand to see what he’d come up with. Amid much anticipation he walked out to reveal his invention: it was the same as his old cup and lid, but now had a piece of Scotch tape that held the plastic lid in place and covered the “x”-shaped slot where the straw goes in.
The case went to court, and the judge ruled that his Scotch tape solution was valid. The way cleared, competitors were quick to join in, and drive–thru Daiquiri stands started to bloom around the state.
A college student with a simple idea and a surplus of persistence had thus created an icon that would go on to become a hallmark of southern Louisiana.
Ervin went on to open four Daiquiri Factories—three in Lafayette and one in nearby Opelousas. All were cash factories. “It was just crazy money for someone who had never made more than $400 a week in the oilfields.” Ervin said. “I went from $400 to $100,000 a week—and that was 1982 money.”
The boom continued for a few years, even with all the competitors. Ervin started looking at ways to bring down costs on ingredients to stay ahead. “I was spending a fortune on Kahlúa,” he said. At a food tech trade show in California he learned how to make his own coffee liqueur, and then he went on to figure out how to make the other cordials he needed. He started to sell ingredients to other Daiquiri stands, essentially becoming the entrepreneur who sold pick-axes to the gold prospectors.
Then came the crash. Just four years after he opened his first stand, oil prices plummeted from $70 to $25 a barrel, hammering this corner of the state economically dependent on off-shore oil production. “Even McDonald’s went out of business,” he said. “The only company doing any business was U-Haul.” He eventually shuttered all four of his stands. The original drive-thru Daiquiri stand was demolished. A strip mall now occupies the site.
Ervin moved to the New Orleans suburbs, and today oversees a single Daiquiri Factory, in Marrero. He works mostly as a food technologist, consulting with others to solve problems in food production.
As for the Daiquiri, “to be honest, I don’t drink them often,” he admitted. “You just get burned out on them.” But others haven’t. Drive-thru Daiquiris remain a staple of southern Louisiana.
“I was just a kid from Tallulah, Louisiana,” Ervin said. “I didn’t invent any of this stuff. I just marketed it differently.”