Penquin Drive-In, Manitowoc, WI

Penquin Drive In Restaurant, 3900 Calumet Avenue/Highway 151, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, August 26, 2012
Noelle & Elise with their Sisters, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, 2000, Gum Bichromate over Platinum-Palladium Print
Collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum

The Penquin Drive In (PenQuin not PenGuin) had car hops on roller skates on some days and a regular menu featuring mashed potatoes with gravy, homemade chicken noodle soup, malteds, custard twist cones, and array of burgers including The Big Penny. Located near the intersection of Highways 141 and 151, it was essentially in the rural outskirts of the city of Manitowoc. More recently, the neon sign still stood out despite the visual noise Wal-Mart-Culver's-strip-mall-food-chains and heavy traffic flowing off of I-43. Rumors circulated for more than a decade that it would be razed to make way for a drive-thru bank or yet another fast food restaurant. The signs, interior furnishings and fixtures have slowly been sold off leaving a distressed shell surrounded by the old cracked and worn asphalt parking lot. We made a photograph there with our 12x20 banquet camera in the fall of 2000 just after the neon had been refurbished following the a significant and memorable hail storm and tornado. The Penquin's intactness couldn't save it though institutions such as the Wisconsin Historical Society recorded its existence as "a significant Drive-In Restaurant" in Wisconsin. It had its fans near and far, but that wasn't enough. Ownership changed a number of times and the magic and vision needed to sustain and maintain a restaurant didn't seem to be there. The Penquin was demolished to make way for the Hardees early in the morning of Monday, November 19, 2012 as recorded in the below photograph by Rich Bouril, owner of the Culture Cafe located across Calumet Avenue.

The demolition of the Penquin Drive-In, Manitowoc, Wisconsin on Monday, November 19, 2012.
Photograph copyright by Rich Bouril whose Culture Cafe across the Calumet Avenue
enabled him to witness and document the early morning destruction of the restaurant.


  1. Anonymous21:20

    Still on par to turn into a Hardees. Confirmed with management at the Sheboygan location. Penquin's multiple owners should have stuck with awesome greasy spoon food and creamy custard served by friendly folks. One of the last owners tried turning into a family restaurant...not the right kind of atmosphere. A prior owner had waitresses who were watching their children while working. Another previous owner's prices were too high for the quantity and quality of the food. If they would have had food like Lates, Bud Willmans, or Connie's (Phil Rohrer's), they may have made it. I also think if they had consistent hours, were open late, and had something unique that you couldn't get anywhere else, that could have helped. Brad and I used to dream about owning that place...now we dream about the day we can eat biscuits and thick burgers.

  2. Does anyone know the make up of the Big Penny?

  3. Anonymous13:22

    It was just a really big hamburger on a bun according to Grandma Gail. KInda Friar Tuck size, I guess. Whatever that is...