The cars snaked out of the parking lot, up the road and onto the interstate. A newly opened restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic caused quite a stir among cooped-up residents in a small town in West Virginia.
Cook Out's soft opening Wednesday was a smashing success, even if it's fare wasn't particularly glamorous. Thursday's first full day had customers jammed three cars across to get to the drive-thru window in Cross Lanes, a community of about 10,000 that, until now, had not seen traffic like this in weeks.
Residents from nearby towns who had been stuck indoors for more than a month got their reason to get outside. Even in Thursday's heavy rains.
And the locals had another chance to complain about cars taking 45 minutes to move a half mile.
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“Traffic was murder all afternoon and evening,” said Cross Lanes resident Dreama Watson.
If only for a moment, life seemed back to normal again. Except it wasn't, since the restaurant's dining room was still closed. It was drive-thru and walk-up window service only.
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Cook Out, which opened its first restaurant in 1989 in Greensboro, North Carolina, offers charbroiled hamburgers, milkshakes and other items typically available at fast-food restaurants. Judging by the cars at the second location in West Virginia, people were itching to get there.
Watson had to endure the traffic twice, once while picking up a prescription in another town and a second time when she went to get dinner at another carry-out restaurant. Both times she chose to use the center lane of traffic normally reserved for left turns and merging traffic to get around it all.
Opening a restaurant during a pandemic has its risks. Like other states, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has ordered residents to stay home unless they have a pressing need to go somewhere. And when they do, people aren't supposed to gather in crowds of five or more.
Wednesday's soft opening on a sunny spring day prompted a dozen people at times to stand outside the walk-up window.
"That's nuts," Watson said.
A message left with the company wasn't immediately returned Thursday.
Justice did not mention the restaurant Thursday at his daily briefing but stressed the need for businesses to reopen eventually. Justice last month ordered nonessential places such as gyms, casinos and hair salons to close, while restaurants were prohibited from serving dine-in customers.
“Our country cannot endure the engine not running,” said Justice, a billionaire businessman who owns coal mines, agriculture interests and the posh Greenbrier resort. “The engine has to run or we will ultimately drift into a depression and we will lose a hundred thousand times as many as we’re losing now. We’ve got to go back to work. I’m going to push us in that direction to the limits of protecting our people. And we’re moving as quickly as we possibly can.”
West Virginia has reported at least 981 confirmed cases of the virus with 31 deaths. Health officials announced two more deaths Thursday: an 85-year-old man from Wayne County and a 71-year-old man from Kanawha County.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.