When E.A. Nonweiller, Wyndall Smith and John Rutledge opened the Wonder Whip on what was then U.S. 60 in 1955, they created the perfect business model for a pandemic that would strike 65 years later.
That’s the assessment of Seth Woodward, who bought the iconic 840-square-foot restaurant in 2015.
“COVID-19 created a huge spike in business for us,” he said. “We’ve set daily, weekly and monthly records.”
Restaurant dining rooms were closed for two months across Kentucky and restaurateurs had to rely on curbside pickup and delivery.
But the Wonder Whip never had a dining room.
Woodward said, “We secured several refrigerated containers to handle more product and to hedge against shortages. But we never ran out of any product.”
He said all but two of his 25 employees kept working through the past three months.
The other two “had to step away for child care,” Woodward said.
He said in making the decision to stay open, “My No. 1 concern was keeping everybody safe. My employees wanted to continue to work. Our vendors and the community were counting on us. So, we stayed open.”
Woodward said, “Business was up substantially. We went from four picnic tables outside to 16 tables. And I want to continue to expand that area.”
Before mid-March when the pandemic hit, he said, “our traffic was about 50% drive through and 50% walk up. Then, it went to 80-20. Now, walk up is starting to come back up slowly.”
Woodward said, “Our business model was ideally situated for this. The teeny-tiny windows on the front were built in 1955. They’re perfect for protecting my employees.”
He said, “We’ve had no health scares. I didn’t have to increases prices, change hours or anything. But it’s been quite stressful.”
Woodward said, “I hope we retain the majority of the new business. We’ve had a lot of new customers who had never been here before. I think most of them will keep coming back.”
He said, “It’s been a wild ride and it’s not over yet. We’re in a better place than we were in March and April though.”
The fact that Wonder Whip has never had indoor seating is good, Woodward said.
“A lot of people are still afraid to go inside to eat,” he said. “They’re more comfortable outside.”
Wonder Whip, 2434 Kentucky 144, had closed in August 2015.
Woodward, a long-time fan of the eatery, was on vacation in Wyoming when he heard about it.
When he got back home, he bought the restaurant and reopened it in 2016.
“I was shocked and genuinely sad that another piece of our history and culture could be permanently lost,” he said at the time.
The top seller on the menu is still the Wonderburger — a quarter-pound hamburger on a toasted five-inch bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo and pickle cooked on an old-fashion flat top grill.
Shakes are in second place followed by ice cream.
Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301, email@example.com