December 23, 1988
Presiding over Mars Drive-In in Superior is "Mrs. T," Estella Trushenski, whose initials happen to be E.A.T. Mrs. T, who is 77, has run the lunch room since 1960. (Bob King / News-Tribune)
Company spices up eatery
By J.P. Furst, News-Tribune staff writer
Martians are just like you and me. They enjoy a good cup of coffee and quiet, bottomless conversation.
In Superior, Martians are what you might call regulars at the Mars Drive-In on Belknap Avenue, one of the Twin Ports’ most original eateries. The Mars’ carhops were put out to pasture long ago and it’s no longer a drive-in, but the cafe remains a place to orbit for people in the neighborhood.
Presiding over it all is "Mrs. T," Estella Trushenski, whose initials happen to be E.A.T. A short, slightly stooped woman with white hair and blue eyes, Mrs. T has run the lunch room since 1960. She still puts in 12-hour days at the age of 77, opening up at 7 a.m. and closing down just after dinner.
The Mars dates from the late 1950s, when drive-ins and everything else had a Space Age name like the Satellite or the Sputnik.
Today, turquoise paint peels from the outside walls, and an old picture of a mug of root beer is fading. A double-sided neon sign on the roof, now partially busted, reads "Let’s Eat."
This is a quiet, cinder-block eatery. It’s a large place, not often crowded. It’s chilly in the winter. The old mirrored cigarette machine doesn’t work – six or seven packs of cigarettes are stacked by the cash register, and old hand-cranked machine.
The Art Deco penny scale "works after a fashion," Mrs. T says. "You have to lean to one side when you stand on it and add 25 pounds, but it works. A number of women step on it and intentionally lean to the other side."
The exterior of the Mars Drive-In features an old neon sign that reads "Let’s Eat." (Bob King / News-Tribune)
Time may have passed the Mars by, but its loyal regulars never do. They stop by in the morning for a cup of coffee and a look at the paper, maybe have an English muffin or an egg. They have a cigarette and a cup at midafternoon. They may eat something more at lunch, but food is only one of the reasons you come here.
You come here for the company. People from all walks of life are comfortable here, whether a 40-cent cup of coffee is a luxury for them or not. The place is popular with mail carriers from the post office nearby. Students occasionally drop in, but not often, despite the campus being just across the street. The Mars draws a lot of older folks.
In its heyday, the Mars had 15 employees, including carhops and cooks. But an A&W opened nearby, and kids lost interest in drive-ins when 18-year-olds could legally drink, Mrs. T says. Though the drinking age eventually returned to 21, kids got out of the habit of going to the Mars for a Marsburger.
Mrs. T and her husband, who died eight years ago, kept the drive-in open by remodeling the interior and dropping the carhops over a decade ago.
"We’ve never changed our policy of serving good food and offering friendly service," she says. "I’ve always liked to meet people and be with people. That’s why I’m still in business; people like to come back here."
Born in Missouri 77 years ago, Mrs. T intended to be a teacher but graduated from teacher’s college in 1929. "That was the start of the Great Depression, of course," she said, "and there was no way to get a teacher’s job." Instead, she waited on tables at hotels, restaurants and bowery joints in Sioux City, Iowa. She moved to Duluth, where she now lives, when her husband was transferred here during World War II.
They bought the Mars in 1960, about two years after it had opened. "There wasn’t any business here when we bought it – none," Mrs. T said. "We were pretty much starting from scratch."
"I don’t know how it got its name," she adds. "Nobody does. It was just there and we left it."
The one-page menu is headed, "Breakfast at Mars," but none of the items listed are very alien. Poached eggs, cakes and coffee – just the customary Earthling breakfast. And Mrs. T doesn’t hurry the food. Good cooking takes time.
Two poached eggs on toast, "Adam and Eve on a raft" in the parlance, is $1.20. The Marsburger is $1.75. Mrs. T is especially proud of the patented Henny Penny chicken (eight pieces for $6.15). "Best chicken in town," she says flatly. "It’s the batter and the tender loving care."
According to the News Tribune’s files, Estella Trushenski died in Duluth on Nov. 6, 2002, at the age of 91. According to her obituary, she operated the Mars Drive-In until 1989.
The Mars Drive-In was located at 515 Belknap Ave. A law office now occupies the site.
Here’s a closer look at the menu from the top photo. The special of the day is "Home Made Spaghetti Dinner with toast and coleslaw, only $2.15" …