Alex High was understandably upset. On March 17 he was told he could no longer run The Stumble Inn as a dine-in restaurant. Before the ink on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decree allowing only carryout and curbside service was even dry, High was ready to just close his Bradford establishment and hope to survive.
But as the saying goes, cooler heads prevailed. But there was an issue. Bradford is almost nine miles north of Iowa Falls and more than 10 miles southwest of Hampton. And with a population of less than 100 people, he didn't see how curbside service would work in Bradford. And carryout, High said, made no sense to him.
“We can do a to-go where people can walk in, which I am still totally opposed to,” High said. “I just don’t understand it because if an infected person walks into your establishment to pick up their food, they just infected your business and put people at risk. So I went ahead and just closed my doors.”
But feeling a sense of responsibility to his employees and his customers, High sought a solution. If he was going to do anything, High wanted to serve his signature Crispy Pig with fries. The sandwich was tabbed the second best tenderloin in Iowa last year by the Pork Producers.
As a past governor and current board member of the Iowa Falls Moose Lodge, High looked to that building as a staging point. He compared the parking lot to the road in front of the Stumble Inn in Bradford. He said the Iowa Falls location was much better suited for drive-up service.
“I’m also miles away from any town with a population of 1,000 people or more,” High said. “I didn’t feel people would drive eight or nine miles to get a drive-up meal.”
The plan worked – almost too well. The Moose, which is built to serve meals for fewer than 200 people, kicked out nearly 400 Crispy Pig meals (with fries). They were so busy, said local Moose treasurer Steve Tjarks, that the grease burned and people had to be turned away.
“The response was exceptionally too much,” Tjarks said. “But that’s good. Alex is a friend and like us, he had to shut his place down. We were just trying to come up with something to keep us both going. We just never anticipated serving so many so fast.”
The service changed High’s thoughts about surviving the shutdown. For that, he’s grateful.
“I am just ecstatic,” he said. “It just goes to show you that people will follow and help take care of a local business. Me included, and the Moose. It worked out very well. We’ll do more, but it all depends on how long the Governor keeps us all shut down. The Moose itself is even talking about doing some different plate-and-serve meals.”
Tjarks and High said this kind of collaboration between businesses and organizations is more important now than ever.
“I think the more we all come together, it’s the only way we’re all going to get through this,” High said. “Even the essential businesses are affected. We’re all in this together. I was going to just ride the storm out, but every day the unknowns start to weigh. Saturday (March 28) helped. At least I know people will come together. They know we’re all struggling.”
For Tjarks, one of those essential businesses with his plumbing and heating business, the number of people who showed up for a tenderloin and fries was encouraging. He said the pandemic has slowed his work down to a crawl as companies and homeowners he serves have shut their doors to most outsiders. But the weekend showed him something.
“People know who’s getting hurt and want to patronize and help,” Tjarks said. “If places like the Moose and everybody don’t pull together and help out other businesses and their employees, they’re not going to have anything left. We have so much fear in us right now. When you have so much fear, you lose faith. When you lose faith, you lose hope.”