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Wendy from Burgie's with a mask on for Stories of Grit

Endless Dedication, Community and Gratefulness in Chappell: Burgie’s

Chappell is the definition of small-town charm. Even on a freezing, snowy day, Corinne Fischer and I walked from the bank, down a block and across Main Street to Burgie’s which is one of three restaurants in a town of 870 people.

After we walked through the front door, we noticed a long table of regulars. This group of farmers and ranchers sit for coffee every morning. Wendy Burgman, the co-owner, manager and cook, had us wait in the back while she finished up in the kitchen before she joined us. She was busy and visibly tired, but before she even spoke, I could tell she was grateful.

Wendy Burgman and her husband, Roy, moved back to Chappell, her hometown, in 2005. The Burgman’s never dreamt of opening a restaurant. Wendy likes to cook, but she has a degree in Physical Education. Her husband farmed, and as much as they loved it, they decided it wasn’t for them. The uncertainty of each year was scary. She laughs that they decided to open a restaurant instead.

“I don’t know what’s scarier,” she said, laughing.

Before moving back, they lived in Memphis, Tennessee. Wendy and Roy came back each summer to help with the wheat harvest. When they came back in the summer of 2005, the bowling alley was for sale, and Wendy’s sister convinced them to buy it. With no business background, they decided to take the risk and bought Burgie’s that November. They also became customers of Points West at that time. The building needed a lot of repairs. Through USDA Rural Development, Points West helped her get a loan to take the entire building down to studs with new electrical and everything. It hadn’t had anything done to it for years. The bowling alley remained, as it had stood from the early 60s, and by March 2006, Burgie’s was open for business!

Wendy remembers coming to the 16-lane bowling alley as a girl. The lanes were shipped in from New Jersey. For being ‘58 or ‘59 models, they run slow, but they do their job. Parts are getting harder to find, but they don’t break down. Burgie’s hosts league bowling every week but had to take a break this year due to COVID-19 mandates and spacing to allow the rest of their business to continue running.

“We’ve survived fairly well through COVID because I guess we’re still here,” Wendy said.

Around mid-march, a year ago this month, Burgie’s was notified that they would have to close in two weeks and do curbside only. Wendy and her team made the decision to close immediately and start curbside and delivery service that following Monday instead of waiting two weeks. Despite the gravity of the situation and the fear it caused restaurant owners around the country, the decision didn’t cause her customer base to slow down.

Rural communities around the nation looked for ways to still engage their community and support local businesses. Chappell hosted a Friday Night Cruise Night and Burgie’s participated the best they could. While they didn’t make a big profit margin, Wendy knew they needed to keep their name out there to tell the community ‘We’re still here and open for business.’

“The PPP loan helped, too, of course,” Wendy said. “We probably wouldn’t have made it without the loan. I mean, you’re closed, you don’t know what’s going to happen, and to be able to keep our employees, that meant a lot.”

Burgie’s had to lay-off their servers initially. Wendy and her daughter, who cooks at the school and whose hours changed with the school’s delivery meals, kept the kitchen running at Burgie’s. With the PPP loan, they were still able to pay their employees who were not working, and after only 12 days, Burgie’s was able to bring them all back.

“We’ve always been stringent with the CDC guidelines,” Wendy explained. “Because of the age bracket of our main clientele, we waited about a month after we were allowed to open our restaurant again, and we still offer curbside and delivery within 6 miles of town.”

In a town like Chappell, some of their customers understood it and some of them didn’t. The coffee-goers wanted to come in every day. A lot of the guidelines didn’t make sense to Wendy, and they definitely didn’t make sense to her clientele, yet she still enforced them. Overall, they appreciated it. They didn’t like it, but they respected it and supported the restaurant in the meantime. Now, Burgie’s is back up to functioning at 100% occupancy.

“There are days you wonder, ‘My God, what have we done?’” She said, smiling, thinking back to opening this business in 2005. “But the community support has always been amazing.”

There is a bar and restaurant about 50 yards north. Wendy never wanted to be a bartender, so she focused their business on a family-style atmosphere . Kids can have birthday parties at the bowling alley and of course, their parents can still order a beer with their meals. The Burgman’s don’t consider the bar, or the other restaurant 100 yards west down the highway, their competition. In a town like Chappell, people support all of them. If they’re in the mood for a drink, they’ll go to the bar; a burger, Burgie’s; fried chicken, the Rusty Bucket. Each spot offers a completely different atmosphere.

“The day-to-day regulars, especially at lunch, we have the downtown people, it’s people 50 and older,” Wendy said. “They aren’t the bar-goers but then again, we have customers that will come here to eat and go across the street to drink.”

The community support in a small-town is unlike anywhere else, and Chappell is no different. Just as much as their customers are loyal to Burgie’s, Burgie’s is dedicated to helping the community. From supporting the school to hosting Rotary or Veteran luncheons, Wendy has always recognized the importance of being willing to help.

“All three of us: Toot’s (the bar), The Rusty Bucket, and us, we’re supported by our loyal customers, and that’s what keeps us here,” she said.

There have been some restaurants that have come and gone in Chappell, but the three that are there now have hung around for 5-8 years, and in Burgie’s case, 15 years this month!

Burgie’s is up for sale and has been for five years, but the Burgman’s have gladly run it in the meantime and will continue to. Running a business is a tough thing to do, so Wendy isn’t shocked that it hasn’t been purchased. Now with COVID, it becomes even scarier.

“Burgie’s has done for us what we expected,” she said. “The business grew each year for the first 11-12 years and since then has leveled out.”

They used to host parties, banquets and Friday night prime rib dinners. Those kinds of things take a lot more time and energy and bring in a lot more business, but Wendy says physically, it just isn’t possible for her anymore, so they have backed off from a lot of those events. The focus is now to sustain, and as a result, live a little longer.

“Someday the right buyer will come along,” Wendy said. “The unique thing I see here is that there is tons of potential in the building.”

The Burgman’s used to have a flower shop in the back and a fitness facility in the banquet room. Over the last 15 years, some ventures have stuck and some have closed, but, as Wendy says, “you never know if you don’t try.”

When asked what she was most proud of, her eyes began to swell up with tears at the very thought of the question. Without a second thought, though, she answered “community.”

“No matter what, they just keep coming back,” she said. “You have to be doing something right to do that. We’ve had tremendous community support. I don’t know what they get, I just know what we have and it’s been good. It’s been really good.”

And on that note, our interview concluded. With any small town, the support is never surprising but always touching. Points West Community Bank is proud to be a partner of Wendy and Roy and to be able to have supported Burgie’s over the years. We’ll be lifelong partners to their family and hope to support the new buyers of the business when the time comes.