Like a lot of folks, Jackson Kysar initially thought coronavirus news was overblown.
But when business began slowing at Ashland's Burger Barn on, of all days, Friday the 13th, the owner was forced to confront reality.
“I thought, we can either close the doors or look at other options because at the end of the day I have 29 team members and we have to take care of them,” Kysar said. “If we can be there for them then I know they will be there to take care of us when this all shakes out.”
His plan: transform his restaurant into a 1950s carhop diner, complete with servers in paper hats, bow ties and candy-striped vests, starting at 11 a.m. Friday.
Gov. Tony Evers’ order shutting down restaurants allows carry-out and delivery. So his carhops will deliver orders to customers parked in his 12-slot side lot.
“We’ll have signs out there on the building with instructions to visit our webpage, call it up on their phone and submit their order online with their parking place number," Kysar said. “As soon as the order is done the carhop servers will deliver the food. We have to be very cautious on how we do this — I wanted servers out there taking orders, but we can’t do that — can’t have money passing hands. It all has to be done quick, online.”
To make it work, the Burger Barn menu will be trimmed down to eliminate the most labor- and time-intensive recipes.
But its most popular burgers, wraps and cheese curds will remain available.
The Burger Barn also will continue delivery and carry-out meals, but Kysar doesn’t think that will satisfy all his customers.
“At the end of the day the customer is our guest and they’re still looking for an experience,” he said. “If we just drop food off at their door, that’s not an experience. But a carhop service, that’s a story they can tell their grandkids. It will be a fun way to get away from social media and TV and everything else we’re taking in while we’re off work.”
Kysar’s mail goal is, of course, to stay in business. But he’s also trying to ensure his employees can pay their own bills.
“If we can keep all 29 on, regardless of the bottom line, I will call that a success,” he said. “We’ll get through it. That’s what I’ve told all my staff. We will play the hand we’re dealt and we remember that we have 2,000 customers that are counting on us.”