The BURG (Harrisburg's Community Magazine)
July 12, 2012
by Kermit G. Henning
The restaurant business ran deep in the Snyder family. Sam Snyder, along with brothers Dick and Ken, were co-owners of the former BBQ Cottage on North Front Street in Harrisburg in the early 1960’s.
Sam ran the kitchen of this popular hot-spot, a favorite hangout for area teens, known for its great burgers and fries. Sam’s wife Maggie worked for the commonwealth at the time. After the couple bought and settled on a piece of property in Duncannon, their daily drive down Route 322 every day to Harrisburg took them past the former Distelfink Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop, sitting empty near the Clark’s Ferry Bridge.
Eyeing the opportunity to have their own place, and work a lot closer to home, the Snyders bought the place, did some slight renovations, and opened on Mother’s Day, 1964, as the Red Rabbit. Their slogan: “Make the Red Rabbit a habit.”
Although there was no particular reason for the name, it stuck and became a most popular destination for locals. Nearly 50 years later, they are still serving up hundreds of their signature Bunny Burgers every weekend. The Snyders turned over operations to their daughter, Cindy, and son-in-law, Sam Berger, in 1988.
The Snyders changed little of the Distelfink shop, keeping the popular curbside car hop service. Pull in, blink your lights and your server is right at your window to take your order, then brings it to you on a tray that hangs on your side window. Picnic tables are available, if you would rather not eat in your car. It has no inside seating.
Four servers are on duty at all times, making service quick and efficient. The Red Rabbit employs 25, mostly teenagers. The majority of the employees started out as part-timers; most of the long-time employees started there as teens.
The Bunny Burger was Sam Snyder’s creation. Served on a sesame seed or poppy seed bun, it includes a ground beef patty, hickory smoked bacon, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions, topped with their special sauce (Snyder’s original recipe). [Note: The special sauce is similar to a tarter sauce.]
When the Red Rabbit opened in ‘64, fast-food restaurants were just starting to emerge, serving pre-made food, every order precisely the same as the last. Snyder, on the other hand, held on to the strong conviction that food should be made to order, and that continues today.
Most popular dishes, besides the Bunny Burger of course, are the ham and pork BBQ, the fish sandwiches and the fried chicken, fish and shrimp dinners. The dinners come with French fries, home-made creamy slaw and a roll. Ice cream, including floats, shakes and sundaes, are also offered.
The family has always insisted on good quality food and good service. Despite rumors to the contrary, Sam and Cindy Berger intend to serve burgers as long as possible, feeling blessed to have the opportunity to continue the nearly half-century old tradition.
“We appreciate our customers, many of whom are regulars who have been coming for years – be it every weekend or every few weeks,” Sam Berger said.
Red Rabbit benefits from a great location along busy Route 322. Penn State football weekends bring heavy traffic past the drive-in; Mother’s Day is their busiest day. They end up serving more than 3,000 burgers on a busy weekend.
Five decades is a long time (the Bergers plan on something for the drive-in’s 50th anniversary in 2014), but times change as development along Route 322 is beginning to crowd things. Yet, the Red Rabbit is more popular than ever.
The Red Rabbit is located in Duncannon along Route 322, ¼-mile east of Rts 11/15 and ½-mile west of the Clark’s Ferry Bridge. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, closed the rest of the week. Call 717 834-4696 or visit www.redrabbitdrivein.com.
Copyright © 2012 The BURG. All rights reserved.