Arnis and Mallory Robbins thought they were done with their Evie Mae’s Barbeque food truck for good when they moved into their new building in Wolfforth four years ago. Then the NBA suspended its season on March 11. The MLB and NHL were next. The coronavirus seemed like more of an immediate threat, so Arnis decided the restaurant needed to offer a way for folks to pick up their barbecue without coming into the building. They dusted off the old food truck and added a drive-through lane. Three days later, Lubbock shut down restaurant dining rooms, and the Robbinses opened a couple more lanes. “We just turned our parking lot into a massive drive-through,” says Arnis, and that’s the only way they’re serving customers.
“We have all the space in the world, and we’ve got a huge staff, and so it worked much easier for us than for a majority of people in our situation,” Arnis explains. Their staff had to shift duties pretty quickly as well. Each of the three drive-through lanes has its own team of four people. There’s a cashier who takes the order from each car, a meat cutter inside, a person to dish out sides and pack up the order, and a runner to deliver it. Each team has its own channel on walkie-talkies (Arnis says he just happened to buy a bunch of them recently) that every staff member now carries. They’re averaging one car served every 45 seconds.
The main problem with the new drive-throughs at first was the lack of a visible menu. Asking people to look up the menu on their phones was cumbersome, so Arnis got an idea. They wrote their menu in large letters on some butcher paper and taped it to a table. Arnis brought out a skid steer with a forklift attachment and lifted the table high above the vehicles so folks could read what was available. “It’s been a big hit,” Arnis says with a laugh.
The menu has changed some. At first, they dropped all of their sides besides beans, slaw, and potato salad. Customer demand led them to bring back green beans and cheese grits. Beef ribs are gone as well. As Arnis says, “There’s no margin in those anyway.” The desserts have also been scaled back, but last week they were still offering banana pudding, sheet cake, and two kinds of pecan pie. “Our baker is having to run a register now,” Arnis says—and says it proudly because that flexibility means they’ve been able to keep their staff employed through this situation. “We don’t want to give up our crew because we know we’re going to need them whenever we come out the other side,” he adds.
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Offering delivery was something the Robbinses immediately thought they’d have to do to survive, but the drive-thoughs have been successful enough that they don’t need any more business so far. Business is down just 10 percent. Their orders for to-go boxes, however, have shot up 350 percent.
There have been some pleasant surprises too. Last week the Robbinses offered a smoked prime rib dinner. They had to cut the preorders off at 210. Fried catfish on Fridays for Lent has been hugely popular. Arnis says he doesn’t care if he has to cook burgers to stay afloat; he just wants to feed his family and the community. At the end of our conversation he says: “My mentality is in about a 72-hour period, we went from ‘we’re a barbecue joint’ to ‘we have a responsibility to keep our people employed and to help our community.'” I can raise a forklift to that.