On the comeback trail: Rick's Restaurant forges ahead with extended open hours as COVID-19 restrictions lift
It's been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic caused a seven-week shutdown of many restaurants in the United States. At Rick's Restaurant in Pratt, many months on the comeback trail followed that shutdown, but customers are returning, highway traffic has kept the doors open, and through all the ups and downs there have been smiles and well-wishes from supporters to cherish along the way.
With new open hours posted on the front door since March 3, Marcia Stahl who owns the restaurant with her husband Rick, said she hopes everyone will do their best to help support them as vaccination shots are made available and it is easier to get out and about.
"Seven weeks was a long time to be closed," Stahl said. "We had to furlough all our employees. We tried call-in orders but it just didn't even pay to have one person on full-time. Because of our location we got highway business when we opened back up in May, but that also works against us because we are a little drive from downtown and it's not as easy to get out here and back over a lunch hour."
Stahl also said that many of their loyal clientele were older and they, especially, needed to stay home and secluded from the coronavirus and that was good, but she hopes the pandemic will continue to ease and that people will feel better about getting out to eat at their old hangouts soon.
"We have people come in who are so glad we are open every day," she said. "But we are not even back to half of what used to come in before this all started."
Stahl said they have noticed how thankful the truckers passing through on U.S. Highway 54/400 (which runs right by the restaurant parking lot) are since they have been opened up for their full routine, now 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except Monday.
"For a while there, it was near impossible for them to find anywhere they could stop, get out and find a hot meal," Stahl said. "We have a lot of travelers who stop here and they really enjoy our hamburgers, ribs, country fries, steaks, cinnamon rolls and homemade pies. The highway business has kept us going, and them too."
As business has slowly increased, the Stahls have been able to bring back several employees, but both Rick and Marcia are still filling in the slack - Rick in the kitchen cooking, Marcia out front taking orders and serving guests.
They've found themselves working longer hours than usual this past year and both have thoughts of retiring.
"We've considered selling the place," Marcia Stahl said. "It's not on the market right now, we want to make sure we get up and running full speed before considering anything like that. But there is a lot we would like to stay home and do ... things we just never seem to get around to."
Longtime customers and sisters Johnna Gallaugher (Winfield) and Candy Heathman (Pratt), who were in for lunch last Thursday, said that eating at Rick's Restaurant is something they are very thankful for and they hope things never change.
"We missed it so much when it was closed last spring into summer," Gallaugher said. "Whenever I come to visit from Winfield this is where I want to eat, and we come out at least two or three times a month."
Heathman said they eat at Rick’s because the people are just the best, the food is always excellent, the breakfast just delicious.
"That hamburger I had last time with bacon and swiss, it was amazing. And the cinnamon rolls, everything here, you just can't get it anywhere else," she said.
For Rick Stahl, it's the little things that keep him going after more than after 20 years in the business.
"Just the other day I cracked open a triple-yolk egg. Never done that before," he said. "We've survived a lot of hard things over the years - we'll survive this slow return to full speed. Sometimes it just seems harder than ever, especially for restaurants, to get it done, but we'll do it. That triple-egg has to mean something. Maybe good luck. You never know. That only happens 1 in every 25-million eggs. I googled it."
Stahl said he cooked and fried the eggs medium as a customer requested, after he took a picture of the phenomenon. He said he was not sure the customer ever had any idea what sort of history-making breakfast he ate at Rick's Restaurant but they probably tasted good enough he didn't care.
Rick’s Restaurant, located 2 miles west of downtown Pratt at 20005 US-54, is easy to find with it’s large Open sign flashing on the south side of the highway next to the Evergreen Hotel. To-go orders may be placed at 620-672-3681.