KANKAKEE — John Redmond pulled into the parking lot of Jaenicke’s Root Beer Stand in Kankakee and quickly jumped out of his car on this bright, sunny Tuesday afternoon.
He had hot dogs on his mind.
Almost without taking a single step, he was greeted by Kimberly Grant, Jaenicke’s assistant manager, who was working her first day of her expanded duties. Grant is now a carhop.
“You don’t have to get out of your car, sir,” Grant said to Redmond.
She informed him as part of the new procedures, the East River Street business is taking orders at the vehicle and bringing the food to the customer.
“Oh, good,” he replied. “That saves me the headache.”
A somewhat shocked Redmond settled back into his car. He was still perplexed.
“This brings me back to the old days,” the 67-year-old said with the shrug of his shoulders. “This is how it was when I was growing up. I haven’t seen this in a long time. This is refreshing.”
Within the matter of minutes, Grant was back with his order — two chili dogs and a bag of chips.
“This is a good deal,” he said as he placed the bag of food on the passenger seat.
In an effort to keep ahead of these rapidly changing times in the face of coronavirus concerns, sometime the best option is reaching back in time. Carhops were popular in the 1950s and into the 1960s. When drive-thru fast-food restaurants began dominating the landscape, the carhops lost their place.
Christine Irps, who’s had this Jaenicke’s since 2008, said the service change was two-fold: offer something unique to customers and at the same time keeping people from congregating at the order window.
“It’s about businesses innovating. Hopefully people will continue to support local businesses. We have to come up with new ideas,” she said. “This is a dog-eat-dog world.”
Hot dogs, she meant.
“We would rather have people waiting in cars than standing near the order window,” she said. “We are doing our part to prevent and illness being spread.”
While all restaurants were closed as of Tuesday, Irps is able to continue her business because she does not provide dine-in service.
Some restaurants are providing take-home service, and dining rooms have been closed.
Fortunately for Irps, she doesn’t have a dining room.
Tuesday marked the first day of carhop service.
She said it will continue for as long as necessary.
The service has increased her payroll as two employees focus solely on order taking and bringing the food back to the waiting customer. The carhops also complete the payment transaction.
At the end of it all, they have gained some tips.
“We always have to keep coming up with different ideas,” Irps said. “This business has been a staple, a well-established business here for a long time. I want to make sure it continues to carry on.”
Michelle Mathy, of Chebanse, was another customer caught off guard by the new procedure.
“I had no idea,” she said after her order was taken. “This is very nice. Everyone loves Jaenicke’s and I want to support our small businesses.”
Phil Hann, formerly a longtime Kankakee resident and now a resident of Chicago Heights, was unaware of the new service, just as was every other customer.
“No kidding?” he said to Grant as she took his order of a Chicago dog, red hot and a root beer. After Grant walked to the window to place his order, he was still somewhat in shock.
“I wasn’t even sure this place would be open today,” he said.
It was and ownership wants to make sure in these uncertain times, it stays open.