A&W continues small town tradition under new ownership

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A&W in Park Rapids is now serving its "All American Food" and frosty mugs of root beer under the new ownership of Skip and Julie Shepersky.

The Sheperskys purchased and took over ownership of the iconic restaurant from LaDene Weech in early March; Weech had owned the restaurant since 1994.

Both Skip and Julie grew up in Menahga and visited A&W frequently. Julie explained that they lived away for over 30 years.

"We're both from big families in Menahga and we were always coming back here to the area," Julie said, adding that when they saw the restaurant was for sale, they began discussing it and quickly became serious about making the purchase. "When we decided on the purchase, we decided we'd move back."

Julie said she has worked in the restaurant business her whole life, but this is their first time owning a business. The Sheperskys' oldest daughter Jenna will be helping Julie with the day to day operations while Skip is out of town working his other job.

Jenna and Julie went to an eight-day training in Lexington, Kentucky at the A&W corporate offices where they learned how to do everything one on one with every department, from cooking to managing and beyond.

"It's a very small, family owned company," Jenna said. "We really like that about them."

"We've gotten a lot of good support from LaDene, the previous owner, and her son Rick works here as a cook. They've been very helpful with everything and we're very appreciated of all the work," Julie said, adding that nearly all of the previous staff has stayed on. "We have a good, knowledgable staff and that's helped train us in and figure everything out."

According to Julie, there aren't a lot of A&Ws that still have the carhop, which will be open year round. She added that it is just another thing that makes the community unique, with so many other A&Ws that are no longer open.

Originally, it was just the carport. An addition was put on in the 90s when the Weechs owned it, and prior to that it was a screened in porch.

"Back in the day they wore roller skates, many years ago. Talking with people is interesting because a lot of people have kids that have worked here or they've worked here themselves," Julie said. "We've talked to a lot of people in the community and everybody wanted the A&W to stay. A lot of people ask if we're changing things. We're not really changing anything, we want to keep things the same."

"We all have memories here too and we want to keep that going. The nostalgia is important to us. We want to keep that same family friendly atmosphere and fun experience," Jenna said. "It's important to us to be involved in the community."

"We didn't want to come in and change everything. We understand the small town feel, we grew up in a small town," Julie added.

They have updated the restaurant with a fresh coat of paint, but operations will remain the same.

According to Julie, they own the lot behind the restaurant. Eventually, they would like to build up the area to include more picnic tables where people could sit and dine with their pets.

"The summer will be interesting, I'm sure it will be busy but that's good." Jenna said. "We want it, we're gearing up for it."

The restaurant, which is now open daily, will be open until 10 p.m. throughout the summer, starting in June.

"We make the regular A&W root beer here, it's always fresh. The only place you can get homemade A&W root beer is at an A&W restaurant," Julie said. "If you buy it in the store or you buy it bottled, it is not the same root beer."

"It's made fresh almost daily," Jenna added.

According to Julie, corporate will be implementing new menus with all the same favorites as well as a few new items. She added that all of the food is made to order, nothing is left in holding. Patrons can sit down at a table, eat in the carhop or order food for takeout.

The grand re-opening will be held on Saturday, June 3 from 2 to 5 p.m. where they will be offering free hot dogs and root beer as well as other specials. They will be having a raffle, a bouncy house as well as other games and prizes.