During the busy lunch hour, customers often have to wait in line to grab one of the iconic red barstools at Taylor’s Maid-Rite. But the wait is always worth it. The Marshalltown, Iowa restaurant feels like the setting for a Norman Rockwell painting, serving up its famous loose meat sandwiches on freshly steamed buns. For those in the mood to splurge, they’ll order a signature Maid-Rite malt to go with it.

Established in 1928, the family-owned restaurant has lived through a lot—the Great Depression, wars, the transformation of old midwestern rail-town, and natural disasters, like the tornado that devastated Marshalltown’s Main Street business district just two years ago.

But still, none of this could’ve prepared them for the current pandemic.

“Since COVID19 started, a lot has changed for our business, as well as for me personally,” said Nancy Hulsizer, an employee who’s worked there for 30 years.

While Hulsizer has worked there for decades, some of her customers have been coming for even longer. Not being able to interact with them has been hard on everyone involved.

“I’m not really a person of change,” Hulsizer said. “So this is difficult for me.”

Taylor’s Maid-Rite used to be open seven days a week. Now they’re open five days a week with limited hours. While some restaurants in Iowa were allowed to reopen operations already, the Maid-Rite had to wait because of a COVID-19 outbreak in a meatpacking plant just five minutes down the street.  

Despite this, locals have kept the restaurant afloat, ordering takeout and shipping online. In return, Taylor’s Maid-Rite employees have kept them fed.

The usually-packed lunch hour looks different than it used to, with business limited to a small takeout window, but Hulsizer is hopeful things will come back soon enough.

Referring to the tornado that devastated the town two years ago, Hilsizer said, “We came back from that stronger, and I know that we’ll be able to come back from this stronger too with the help of our customers and our community.”

But still, she said the historic, small-town establishment needs support.

“Please keep coming to see us,” she said, with a noticeable sadness in her voice. “We need your business and we appreciate you.”

It will be months before business is normal again at Taylor’s Maid-Rite, but one thing is for sure: when customers can sit down in one of the iconic red barstools again, they’ll immediately return to happier times.