Gianelli's Drive Thru in Prairie Grove stayed open without knowing how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect daily business. Terry Trobiani, boyfriend of owner Debra Petersen, said customers have responded with an outpouring of support, sometimes showing up three or four times a week.
Business is down, Trobiani said, but the continued support from loyal customers has been heartening.
"We’ve seen customers three or sometimes four days a week, coming in and buying stuff," Trobiani said. "They’ll come in for smoothies, they’ll buy full meals or they’ll come in for lunch. They’ll spend $10 and leave a $5 tip.
"People are saying, 'We’re here to support you. We don’t want you guys to go away. Please stay in business, we love you.’ We seem to be holding our own because of our loyal customers."
To return the favor and give something back, Gianelli's, located off Route 176 in Prairie Grove, is offering a free lunch (hot dog, fries and 16-ounce drink) to nurses and first responders, as well as free coffee throughout the day. A sign was made and posted in front of the restaurant.
"We already had the county sheriff come, and we do have a number of doctors and nurses come in here," Trobiani said. "We have the option to be open, but [first responders] don’t have that option. We're trying to keep ourselves going, but it’s not all about money. My daughter is a nurse. They have to to be out there everyday."
Trobiani doesn't want anyone to feel like they are taking advantage of a free meal.
"This is not up for a day or two," Trobiani said. "This is up for as long as it takes to get through this. I’m expecting a lot more people stopping in, even if it’s just for coffee, just something to keep them going. These are our customers, and they don’t need to come in, but they come in all of the time."
Trobiani sees another advantage of the sign.
"Let’s say nobody stopped in to take advantage of a free lunch. I think just driving by that sign can make someone feel better," Trobiani said. "Let them know they're appreciated. If you stop for lunch, great; if you stop for coffee, great. It's just our way of saying, ‘Hey, we appreciate you guys being out there.' So I hope it does some good."
Gianelli's is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. More information can be found at gianellisdrivethru.com.