Frugals Celebrates With Feeding Frenzy

By Beacon Staff

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If Amy Siefke and her staff at Frugals ever wondered just how much the community savors their fast food, that question was answered in a big way on Nov. 27.

The distinct chrome-covered, double-sided drive-thru restaurant on U.S. Highway 93 South in Kalispell celebrated its 10th anniversary with what could best be described as a feeding frenzy. Frugals commemorated its milestone by selling quarter-pound Frugal Burgers for 99 cents and about everything else on the menu for half price.

The celebration ended up being their busiest day ever. Within the first five minutes of opening at 11 a.m., 25 burger patties had been slapped on the grill and served. Lines of cars stretched to the highway all day as people waited to order the popular burgers, shakes and fries. By closing time at 8 p.m., the staff had served 1,465 burgers.

It was a long day of work for the tired Frugals staff. But in the food service industry, a busy day is the best commendation there is, and that Sunday showed just how popular the small drive-thru has become over the last decade.

With 20 employees and no inside seating, Frugals offers a menu full of items that enjoy a loyal following. There’s the double bacon cheeseburger or the BLT sandwich. There are huckleberry milkshakes served year round. The fries have always been touted as a must-have. And then there’s the Monster Burger – an imposing four-patty hamburger that the staff seems to especially enjoy building.

“We cook to serve. If you want a burger, we’re going to get you a burger. If you want a chicken, we’re going to get you a chicken. Hot and fresh,” said Mandain Kutch, a supervisor at Frugals who is nearing her five-year anniversary donning the royal blue uniform.

All of the beef is fresh and never frozen, and new patties arrive every three days. Siefke, the restaurant’s manager, proudly points to the A+ rating from the health department, a badge of honor in food service.

It may surprise folks who drive through on a regular basis that, despite its uniqueness, Frugals is a franchise, albeit a small one. The first restaurant opened in Port Angeles, Wash., in 1988. Today there are five Frugals – three in Washington, one in Minnesota and one in Montana.

Either way, Siefke doesn’t consider Frugals to be your typical burger chain and that’s the mindset she and her staff furnish.

“We’re not like most other franchises,” she said. “I think we’re really unique.”

Part of that uncommon quality can be seen in the workmanlike chemistry inside the small, narrow building. Seven employees per shift are crammed inside Frugals every day. Employees jump from duties in the kitchen to working the grill to serving customers at one of two windows.

From the outside looking in, it can be an impressive display of chaos in concert.

“You get used to it,” Siefke said of working in the tight space. “We’re like a family.”

Moments later, she nearly collides with another employee hurrying to make a shake. Siefke apologizes and returns to work in one fell swoop. Chaos in concert.

“We’re always all bumping into each other,” she said, smiling. “You have to look who’s coming behind you.”

Stress can often plague a staff in the food service industry, which is why Siefke does her best to lighten the atmosphere. Whether it’s encouraging everyone to wear Santa hats while working or frequent employee contests or bonus incentives, Siefke doesn’t want her employees dreading coming to work.

Her efforts appear to be working. Many of her devoted team of employees have stuck with Frugals for years. Most are approaching three- or four-year anniversaries.

“The people here are nice and it’s a fun atmosphere to work in,” said Sarah Sanford, Kutch’s sister who has worked there almost four years. “It’s not too stressful. Some days it can be but not normally.”

Every employee earns a bump in vacation, too, when they reach anniversaries. It’s another way Siefke hopes to take care of her staff and show them their efforts are appreciated.

And after the anniversary on Nov. 27, that hard-working group certainly deserves a good vacation.