GILLETTE, Wyo. — One of the first guys was from UPS. He told someone at Pennaco Energy, and from there word got around in the natural gas fields about Becky DeVeny’s breakfast burritos.
Best breakfast burritos on Gillette’s north side, and the cheeseburgers are good, too, Redstone Resources pumper Sal Martinez said as he squirted a pile of ketchup into his fries.
“I don’t pack a lunch anymore. I heard about the breakfast burritos in the field and I heard she had good green chili. That’s what made me check it out.”
A handful of fast-food entrepreneurs have figured out that you don’t have to be in town to capitalize on the energy boom. Every day, thousands of workers stream out of Wyoming towns to go to work in oil and gas fields and coal mines, taking their hunger with them.
DeVeny knew that some of the busiest natural gas fields are north of Gillette, so she opened a roadside hot food franchise in June, just a slight swerve off of U.S. 14-16 north of Gillette.
“Mornings are the busiest,” DeVeny said. “I give out my phone number so they can order their cheeseburger in advance.”
DeVeny has $200 and $300 days. The customers are loyal, she said, and the only advertising is word-of-mouth.
The roadside eatery opportunities that cater to industry workers can be found all over the state. A passer-by wouldn’t expect to see much activity in Lysite, a town of 27 with a dog named Pepper who acts as mayor, according to two locals.
But the remote railroad town about 70 miles northwest of Casper happens to be on the way to Burlington Resources’ Lost Cabin gas plant construction site and two of the largest drilling rigs operating in North America.
More than 700 people go to work in the area every day, and most of them pass through Lysite, where Eat and Run emits tantalizing smells from a small white trailer.
“It’s the hot food. At first they didn’t care if it was cold. But they like hot food because they were tired of loading up cardboard boxed food from (convenience stores),” said Mary Schrock, who opened Eat and Run in 1997.
She sold the business to her friend Vonda Jarman. Jarman makes French dips, chili dogs, breakfast burritos and a dozen other dishes for dozens of customers every day.
“You’ve got to get used to their shifts,” Jarman said.
On Wednesday, Jarman prepared a cheeseburger for one worker who always stops in before 7 p.m.
“We don’t treat anybody special, we just treat them like family,” Jarman said.
With the shift work, there’s usually a morning and evening rush. But a few tourists usually stop in just to say they’ve had lunch in Lysite.
Jarman has one part-time helper during the week and the store is closed on the weekends — except during hunting season, of course. Like other worker-targeted eateries, Jarman’s Eat and Run gets a boost from catering company events.
Grey Wolf and TIC often ask Jarman to cater safety classes, barbecues and other get-togethers.
In Midwest, a remnant of an oil boom town, Barbara Burgess is at Whiners Restaurant at 4 a.m. every Friday to begin making between 75 and 100 breakfast burritos.
Midwest-based Howell Corp. has a safety meeting for its employees every Friday, and the breakfast burritos helps lure them in quickly.
“Word-of-mouth, that’s how I’m making it. It’s getting better every year,” said Burgess, owner of Whiners.