As it’s nearing the lunchtime hour in Sparks, a small line starts to form at Scoopers Drive-In on 1356 Prater Avenue. The family-owned business will be approaching its 40-year anniversary next February, and business shows no signs of slowing down. Scoopers isn’t just a burger joint, it’s a destination, and in many cases, a family tradition.
Where Scoopers sits was originally built as an A&W in the 1960s, but when the owner of the franchise decided to retire then it changed hands for a short while and unfortunately the building fell into disarray. Concurrently, Mike Richards was working for USA Gasoline and had recently relocated to Sparks with his family. In the late 70s when Richards was approaching retirement, he decided to use his profit share plan/retirement funds to use to start a new business and turned the 1356 Prater Avenue location into Scoopers.
Nowadays, his son Shawn runs the Prater Way location while his brother Colin manages the family’s second location on Kietzke Lane in Reno. Growing up, Shawn remembers working at Scoopers during his lunch break and after school while attending Sparks High.
“This is a destination now; if we closed or moved the Prater location then it would be missed,” Shawn says. Scoopers has been around so long now that events like the Rib Cook-Off and Black Friday bring an extra boost, when people are coming home for the holidays or getting lunch with their families during a special event. And while Shawn acts as more of the operations manager, his three daughters (the third generation of Richards’s) can often be seen working at Scoopers as well.
Over the past few years, implementing a POS system and bringing in accountants has made managing Scoopers easier- and more fun- for Shawn. He’s now been able to better predict the business trends and fortunately has a good crew of employees to keep the place going.
“I always welcome suggestions and ideas from family, customers, and staff (for coming up with new menu items),” Shawn says. “I’m open to any progress. Some (ideas) work and some don’t, but it’s worth trying it out,” he adds.
For instance, he’s been playing with different recipes for a watermelon shake, but just can’t seem to find one that tastes right. However, one example of an item that’s made it on the menu is the Al Burger, named after a customer who complained that Scoopers didn’t serve a big enough burger. Therefore, Scoopers created a burger with a three-quarter pound beef patty to appease him. The Mighty Mike has also gained notoriety in Sparks, consisting of a ¼-lb. hot dog sliced open, filled with American cheese, wrapped in bacon, and deep fried.
“My dad was in Texas and saw one there,” Shawn says of where the Mighty Mike originated. “We didn’t create the banana split or the hamburger, we just get ideas and make it our own way. We try things out and some turn out pretty well,” he says, admitting that they’re currently trying out some new recipes with bleu cheese.
Take for instance the Birthday Cake Milkshake, made with a special cake syrup. In his years of being at Scoopers, Shawn has learned that more air pumped into an ice cream machine makes for a stiffer frozen treat and if you let it sit for a while then the ingredients will start to separate. To offer a better quality product than some of its nearby fast food competitors, Scoopers uses a small air siphon for its machine, creating an ice cream with less air, making it creamier and more dense (Shawn’s own favorite shake is a coffee/peanut butter combination).
Shawn is always on the lookout for products that are easiest to prepare and cook, and while wholesale prices of ingredients continues to fluctuate, Scoopers has kept the same vendor for his staple items for 30-plus years, allowing the drive-in to keep its menu items more affordable. And now that school is back in session, Scoopers has launched a student lunch special which includes a burger, small fries, and a drink for $4.99 on weekdays. Considering that Scoopers is in walking distance to Sparks High, it makes it a nice option for students on their lunch break.
In the future, Shawn has a goal to expand the Scoopers enterprise across Western Nevada and build something on the lot that the family owns next door to the Prater Avenue location. But for now, Scoopers continues to delight Sparks residents and visitors while keeping the family legacy alive.