Customers walk through a door emblazoned with an oil derrick image and under a growing row of energy industry company caps along a beam as they make their way into the dining room.
The cooks mash the potatoes, and they know the best way to bread and fry chicken-fried steak at The Wooden Derrick Cafe in downtown Casper, owner Kelly Reyes said.
Since the restaurant opened Nov. 13, her husband and co-owner, Gabriel, has had to restock it between shipments to keep up with demand.
Former trucker Reyes has always wanted to open a restaurant and talked about if for years. When her job ended and she was offered a transfer, she opted to retire from the trade and pursue her dream.
The name and theme through the restaurant reflects her other passion: the local oil industry.
“Well this is oil city, so it just is appropriate,” Reyes said. “... I wanted to focus on history and what this city represents.”
Walls of industry history
A coat embroidered with a crane logo stretches on an awning above the first booth. The customer who donated the jacket from an oilfield crane service told her it’s nearly 30 years old, and she won’t find another like it again. Customers have brought hats, a painting of a derrick and other energy industry memorabilia. One recently promised to bring in a pair of overalls Reyes looks forward to adding to the collection.
“So I just want my walls just covered with history,” Reyes said.
Breakfasts, lunches and some dinners are named for oil rig parts, crew jobs and other industry terms, like the Shaleshaker burger, a breakfast casserole called the Hanger and their popular homemade biscuits and gravy called the Chainhand. The grilled ham and three-cheese sandwich on dill weed bread is the Ginzel – the name for a rookie on the rig, she explained.
Most of the dinner items will change periodically, although the pot roast and chicken-fried steak will likely to be signature standards, she said. The kids menu is simple, so parents can easily find something for them to eat. Desserts include homemade pies.
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Reyes’ father was a trucker and worked in the oil industry. She’s hauled oil from refineries and worked in coal mining. When she was laid off from the Black Thunder Coal Mine in 2016, she returned to trucking, she said.
“I don’t know what it is about that oil industry,” she said, “but I just love the oil industry and the coal industry and the gas industry.”
Home-style cooking and conversation
The Wooden Derrick specializes in homemade-style food, and no one leaves hungry, she said. In fact, many leave with leftovers in to-go boxes, she said.
“You know, it takes a couple minutes longer for that food to get cooked because it is home-style,” she said.
People seem to think it’s worth the wait, she said. The corned beef is brined in-house for the reuben sandwiches, and they almost ran out last week before they could get another batch ready, she said.
Among the highly-qualified cooks is one who spruces up the dinner menu with his culinary creativity, sometimes switching out the sides like green beans with something different for the night as he “works this incredible magic” with vegetables, she said.
The restaurant will begin serving beer and wine in the spring.
She has to make time for bookkeeping, but Reyes favorite part of the job is in the action, she said. She can usually be found everywhere from serving in the front of the house to cooking or washing dishes.
“And that’s where I wanted to be,” she said. “I want to be everybody’s right hand man, and that’s what I have been.”
The restaurant has drawn a steady stream of oil field workers among a mix of customers, Reyes said.
She wants them all to come in and relax. It’s her mission for the restaurant:
“Good food brings good conversation,” she said, “Which brings laughter, which brings them back.”
Follow arts & culture reporter Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner