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A night out at the Mendon Twin Drive-In

The Mendon Twin Drive-In.
The Mendon Twin Drive-In.Harrison Hill for The Boston Globe

MENDON — It was Saturday evening, and cars were lined up on Milford Street, all waiting to find a spot at the Mendon Twin Drive-In.

As dusk approached, two parking lots — each facing a giant movie screen — filled with cars carrying families, groups of friends, and couples out on a date.

Christine Morrissey and her family arrived from Middleborough in a pickup truck outfitted with a plump striped mattress — the perfect venue for viewing the 1975 movie "Jaws" under the stars.

"For me, it's childhood memories I want my kids to have," Morrissey said of the drive-in experience. "I like to be outside, come early, and hang out. No technology."

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One of only three drive-in movie theaters left in Massachusetts — the others are in Leicester and Wellfleet — the Mendon Twin Drive-In is enjoying a revival as its new owners strive to make it both modern and nostalgic. This is the second season that brothers Dave, Mike, and Dan Andelman, who also own the Phantom Gourmet brand, have operated the drive-in theater, which was built in 1953.

"Everybody remembers their first time that they go to a drive in," Dave said. "I'm 99.9 percent sure that the first drive-in movie I saw was 'Dumbo,' but I definitely remember my parents putting us in our pajamas and going to the drive-in."

In 1958, the peak for drive-in movie theaters, there were 4,063 nationwide, according to the United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association. Gradually over the next three decades, most closed as owners retired, the value of land soared, and audiences found new forms of entertainment. The tide began to turn in the 1990s when more drive-ins were built or reopened, and there are 348 operating today.

"It is kind of a misnomer that all drive-ins are dying and dead," said John Vincent, the association's president and owner of Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre & Cinemas on Cape Cod. "It is natively a great concept. It always was . . . It is a great time to bond with the family, but you still have the communal experience of watching the movies with others."

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The Andelman brothers are among the new generation of drive-in theater owners. Their experience running Phantom Gourmet — which offers gift cards and gourmet food festivals along with the eponymous TV show — gives them a fresh perspective.

"I think the industry needs to appreciate that it is awfully easy to stay home now and just watch movies on the big-screen TV," Dave Andelman said. "We have to make this an entertainment destination. We have to make it so that no matter who you are, you're on Facebook and Twitter, like 'We are doing the funnest thing ever. I am at the Mendon Twin Drive-In.'"

Since acquiring the theater — on the other side of Milford from Interstate 495 — the brothers have added a 5,000-square-foot outdoor patio where they offer beer and wine. They have also worked to make food a priority.

Some of the signature dishes include a triple cheeseburger, popcorn chicken, and mac and cheese bites. They also began to offer pizza this year, after continually finding pizza boxes from nearby restaurants in the trash at the end of the night.

"We are feeding a lot of people in a short amount of time. Everyone is hungry," Dave said. "We have been working super hard to make the food as fast, efficient, tasty as possible."

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Along with regular movie screenings, the drive-in hosts a range of other events, such as barbecue nights, country music, and karaoke. Every other Thursday it hosts a "Cruise Night" car show, inviting people to bring souped up and restored classic vehicles.

"Every time, we are really, really excited about improving our act," Dave Andelman said. "We have a great mix of staff, everyone wants to make it a better experience . . . we are a team."

Before the first showing on a recent Saturday night, children and parents threw footballs and Frisbees as people lined up at the snack bar. Many had been at the theater since 5 p.m., making sure to get a good view of the big screen and leaving time to socialize and relax before the movie.

There were lawn chairs, foldable tables, even baby cribs sprawled outside people's cars as everyone awaited the night's movie offerings.

"It is just fun because it is not like a movie theater, not quiet," said one patron, John Frasca. "Doing your own thing, be in your car. It's a lot more social. The atmosphere is much more light."

His friend Madison Moore from Westwood quickly added "cute boys!" to Frasca's list of drive-in advantages, as a group of teenagers walked by.

The drive-in offers double-feature shows each visit. Movies vary week to week, with recent showings including "Minions," "Jurassic World," "Vacation," and "Trainwreck." The price is $25 per car carrying up to six people; $5 per person beyond that number.

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Coming this fall are "Retro September," featuring all-time movie favorites, and "Horror October," when moviegoers can see first-run and classic horror films and the Beer Garden patio will be transformed into a pumpkin patch.

As the Mendon Twin Drive-In celebrates more than six decades of operation, business seems to only be improving, Dan Andelman said.

"Honestly, I think it's the busiest summer ever. I think it is because it is the exact opposite of sitting in bed watching a movie on a phone," he said. "It is like a party, a tailgate . . . one of the only truly affordable family events."


Cynthia Chen can be reached at cynthia.chen@globe.com.