COVID-19 pandemic leads to carhop comeback

Published: Jun. 20, 2020 at 9:02 PM CDT
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The COVID-19 pandemic forced many restaurants to shut their doors, but some found a creative way to keep serving food by going old school.

Some restaurants wanted a creative way to stay up and running, beyond just takeout.

"Looking out at the parking lot, [I] said, 'Hey, we could do carhop,'" said Jeff Castree, co-owner of Baraboo's Broadway Diner.

Jeff and his wife Vonnie Castree decided to start a carhop service at the diner, run right out of their parking lot.

"We could find some of the carhop trays on the Internet and ordered them and we found that we had a good response," Jeff said.

The couple said their customers love the nostalgia of bringing back an old school carhop service and being able to eat right in their car.

"One of the first nights they offered it, we came down, had hot dogs and burgers and of course, we had to have the shakes," said David Grant, a carhop customer at the diner.

The Castrees found this old way of serving food is now useful in handling a "new normal."

With the carhop service, customers do not have to leave their cars. Staff will take their orders and then bring trays that attach right to the car window.

"We hadn't been able to do something like that in the area before, so it's something new, something different, plus honestly, we wanted to get out of the house," Grant explained.

Mark Obois, owner of Fitz's On The Lake in Lodi, also offered carhop service for about a month. He said on a good day, he served about 20 cars.

"It raised everyone's spirits a little bit because when you got this uncertainty, it was fun," Obois said.

Obois even had some of his staff on traditional roller blades for an extra dose of nostalgia.

"I think if you're in your 50s or older, you still remember some restaurants that had that type of service," he said.

Obois stopped his carhop service once he was able to open his dining room and patio, but the Castrees are keeping theirs open for now as one more option for their customers.

"Some of them have called and said they're doing date nights for the carhops, so they're just trying to find ways to do something fun and different," Vonnie Castree said.