Despite facing severe staffing woes, a family-owned restaurant in North Carolina hasn't stopped cooking up free meals for dozens of local heroes every day.
The Shark Shack, which has only two employees on its payroll, is determined to stay open for its customers and so it can keep serving "appreciation" meals to the servicemen and women throughout Carteret County. This includes police officers, lifeguards, firefighters, nurses, doctors, EMS workers and any active military member, owner Taylor Thomas told FOX Business.
"I don't turn anybody away if they're serving my county," Thomas said. "I always tell the customers ‘it is important to take care of them because they are always taking care of us.’"
As long as they are in uniform, they will be given a free meal that's made fresh by the only two workers Thomas has left – a 21-year-old cook and a 63-year-old prep cook. Thomas and her husband, Jeremy, who have to work every single day just to keep up with the orders, are in charge of everything else.
The small but mighty team serves about 450 to 500 meals a day, 100 of which go to the local heroes who stop by during their lunch break, according to Thomas.
And the meals are fully funded by Thomas' customers. When they come in, all they have to say is "add a local hero meal to my order," she said. Thomas will add $5 dollars to their tab, which will then fund a meal on the "appreciation menu."
When those heroes come in, Thomas will point to the red menu which encompasses a wide range of food items including burgers, wraps, hot dogs, tacos and sandwiches.
Some days, you can even see a line of local heroes out the door, according to Thomas.
"Usually when people see the Coast Guard in uniform, they say, ‘I want to add five on to my order, five local hero meals to feed the five standing behind me.’ And that's usually how it goes," Thomas said.
It's proven to be a challenge due to the fact that they are "understaffed by at least two-thirds" of what they're used to, but Thomas and her crew aren't giving up.
"My father, 73 years old, is supposed to be retired. He has been in there every single day to help us," Thomas said. "I have my family that come from three and a half to four hours away, drive here on the weekends, even now, to help us."
It's the first time in a decade that they've "ever been presented with this situation," she said.
Although it's a small operation with only a take-out window and outdoor seating, it still "requires a lot of hands on deck at all times," she said.