"Meet me at the Hut" becomes community refrain

John Green
The Hutchinson News
Kelby Burnett hands her husband Keith Burnett his plate with a Burrito Supremo off of their tray at Taco Hut Thursday afternoon. Kelby said that they heard about the restaurant on Facebook and wanted to come by and try it out.
A customer walks into the Taco Hut restaurant Thursday afternoon at 600 East 30th Ave. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the small business which has been struggling during the pandemic.
Owner Angie Brooks builds a Taco Burger Thursday afternoon in the kitchen of the Taco Hut restaurant she owns. Brooks said that the restaurant had been struggling because of the pandemic and that she was very grateful for people supporting her business and other small businesses in the area.
Emily Lundemo hands John Richards his order of tacos Thursday at the Taco Hut, 600 East 30th Ave. Richards said that he comes once a week and always orders his favorite item, tacos.

Angie Brooks has been stunned by the stream of customers who have patronized her small Mexican-style fast-food restaurant on East 30th Avenue since word spread the business was on the cusp of closing.

Business was so brisk last weekend that some customers at Taco Hut, 600 E. 30th, had to wait more than an hour for their food, and then the restaurant had to close for a day to wait for a delivery to restock.

While the outpouring has been heartwarming, Brooks, who bought the restaurant 10 years ago after working there off and on since she was a teen, said she’s not in the clear yet.

A GoFundMe page was started for the restaurant last week by a friend, Jason Hawks, with a $10,000 goal, which Brooks said would get her to at least June. On Thursday, it was at $3,145.

The extra business is “awesome,” Brooks said, but she noted it also comes with its own costs.

“It’s like, now that we’re busy the truck has to come way more than they were, which costs more,” she said. "And we have to pay more taxes, payroll and sales tax. But hopefully, it will even out.”

The business was started in 1970 by Gene and Sharon Skalenda in a tan 2,500 square-foot stucco building on the north side of 30th Avenue originally built in 1953. They sold the restaurant to Brooks, a longtime employee, in 2010.

“We would have celebrated our 50th-anniversary last year if COVID hadn’t hit,” she said.

“This was my first job,” said Brooks, 52. “I’ve worked here since before I was 15. My mom worked her. It was a family thing. Everybody thought I owned it, but I didn’t. When the owners were ready to retire they wanted to know if I wanted to buy it. They wanted to keep it the same.”

The business employs six. It qualified for the first federal Paycheck Protection Program, a forgivable low-interest loan program created by Congress to help keep workers employed, but did not qualify for the recent second round, Brooks said.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do until a friend set up the GoFundMe, to try to get out there we were hurting,” she said.

Besides the online donations and patrons visiting the business, a regular customer set up a donation jar on the counter, while Ken’s Pizza, another longtime small business down the street, put one out too.

“Ken’s has really helped, Jackson’s Meat has helped us,” Brooks said. “Small businesses have to stick together.”

The extra business has been challenging in itself, she said, but they're also dealing with restrictions brought on by the novel coronavirus.

“We’re trying to social distance,” she said. “We had car side orders and call-in orders. Every time we’d hang up after a call in order it would ring again. We finally had to stop answering it.”

Her patrons were all kind and patient, Brooks said, despite the chaos and lengthy waits.

“It is humbling the way everybody has stepped up to help out,” she said. “We appreciate what everybody is doing.”

The business is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. A menu can be found at http://www.tacohutch.com/.

Angie Brooks purchased Taco Hut 10 years ago, right, and her children Jordan Smith, left, and Sheridan Humphrey work with her at the family-owned and run restaurant.
Owner Angie Brooks arranges chips on a plate to be used for a future order at the Taco Hut, 600 E. 30th Ave., Thursday afternoon. Brooks has owned the business 10 years ago.
Keith Burnett ordered a Burrito Supremo with everything on it Thursday afternoon at Taco Hut, 600 East 30th Ave.