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Lamar family turns its talents into successful country drive-thru

Diners looking for the best cheeseburger around may not think to turn onto Charlie Parker Road off of Highway 81 near Lamar School.
But there, amid a small, quaint little country neighborhood, is one of Washington County’s favorite drive-thru restaurants.
The Snack Shack features everything from chicken tenders to fish tacos, but it’s the cheeseburgers customers really come out for, according to Mary Lou Sluss, chief cook and co-owner of the eatery, along with husband Tim and daughter Tammy Shell.
“We don’t go cheap,” Sluss said. “We buy the best. Our ground beef comes from Fresh Market in Johnson City.”
Looking for, finding and serving only the best ingredients has been the theme for this family adventure since its opening, and Sluss has no plans to change.
It is, she believes, the secret to the restaurant’s success.
It’s also a success in which the whole family takes a great deal of satisfaction.
“I was out of work,” Sluss explained. “I had looked and looked for a job. I had 20 years of experience in the food industry, and I couldn’t find anything.”
She decided to turn that experience into a self-made job. The family bought a yard barn, set it next to their house on Charlie Parker Road and had it remodeled to accommodate everything needed for a small restaurant. A circular driveway completed the drive-thru concept.
“I got the idea from a friend who had something like this in Jonesborough, but it didn’t make it,” Sluss said. She knew being located out in the county was going to put them at a disadvantage, but she said she and her family were determined to give it a try.
Now looking toward the Snack Shack’s third anniversary coming in September, Sluss is understandably proud of her achievements. Their health inspections have been at an unheard of 100 percent, she said, and every day, local businesses call in lunch orders, neighbors swing by for an easy dinner and dedicated Snack Shack fans hit the road for a quick drive to their favorite food place.
“On Mondays, (when the Snack Shack is closed) we are busy driving around to pick up supplies,” she said. “The rest of the week, I have to feed everybody.”
Each week, Sluss prepares the food, and her daughter helps serve it up.
“I know about everybody’s favorites,” Shell said. “I have one guy who comes every week from Henderson, N.C., for a burger.”
Because she’s usually cooking, Sluss said she doesn’t get to meet many of the customers face-to-face, but she still loves hearing their praise. She knows she’s working hard to earn it.
“Our chicken salad, pimiento cheese and my slaw are all homemade,” Sluss said. “We make homemade ranch dressing with buttermilk. We go through about two gallons a week.”
Everything fried, she added, is fried in the more expensive peanut oil for better flavor.
Sluss’ favorite menu item at the Snack Shack is the hamburger steak meal, complete with gravy, sauteed green peppes and onions. Still, she admits, the cheeseburgers really are something.
She starts with 8 ounces of ground beef, tops them with Velveeta cheese and then adds lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, with just enough mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup to allow the beef flavor to shine through.
“The Snack Shack has been a gamble,” Sluss said. But it’s paid off and taught them all an important lesson — a lesson she’s only too happy to share.
“Never give up,” she said with a smile.