by Phil Egan
If you grew up in the 1960s, Tab’s was part of your life.
Whether it was a Friday night high school dance, roller skating at Funland or Rose Gardens, or Saturday night dances at the Y on Mitton Street, Tab’s Drive In was where we all wound up. We went there to show off our cars, meet our friends, and to check out the girls. We ate Canadaburgers, Footlong Hotdogs, and the special Tab’s secret sauce that you could find nowhere else.
Tab’s came to Sarnia as a result of a special restaurateur named Jack Fogel, a food trendsetter extraordinaire.
Fogel was born in Old Montreal in 1926, the son of a butcher. He learned at an early age about various cuts and grades of meats. He spoke little French and only went as far as grade 10, desiring instead to get out on his own and try to earn a living in the foodservice industry.
Jack opened his first restaurant, the Holliday on the “Golden Mile,” as London Line was then called, in the 50s after a stint teaching ballroom dancing at Arthur Murray’s when first arriving in Sarnia. Motor vacationing had become popular, and Jack saw the value in a restaurant motel that also offered gas and car washes while you ate.
A trip to California in the late 50’s introduced him to the Drive In phenomenon, and he decided to bring it to Sarnia with a new Drive In restaurant on the Golden Mile. The second Tab’s, on Colborne Road, was the one that struck gold with teenagers.
It took its name from his wife Betty’s first initial and the initials of the wives of his two partners; Joe Golab (Anne) and Fred Garrison (Terry). The Colborne Road Tab’s soon became “the In place” with Sarnia’s teenagers. With the jukebox playing 60s hits, customers would order their Canadaburgers or Tartan Surprises on the car-side speaker. Service was provided by young women “carhops” in tartan pants, white blouses and western-style bowties. The food tray hung on your car window.
The Canadaburger, particularly, became a legendary Sarnia food, and created fans all across the province who visited the city and became lifelong fans of Tabs’ special sauce. Years later, many would still claim that it was the best hamburger they had ever eaten.
Jack Fogel’s restaurant skills didn’t end with Tab’s. In the 70s he created Ye Olde Country Steakhouse on the site of the original Tab’s on London Line. The steakhouse brought an element of fine dining to Sarnia that was rare to the area. Valley executives and families searching for a special night out made it very popular. Highlights were the French onion soup, New England clam chowder, warm garlic bread and, of course, the perfectly prepared steaks and surf ‘n turf dinners.
Fogel’s daughter Sherri-Lynn, says that people still approach her to fondly reminisce about her father and his restaurants.
Jack Fogel later became president of the Canadian Restaurant Foodservice Association.