By Rob Peterson
Ibison Concession & Catering would normally be preparing to take one of its concession food trailers to Thunder Over Louisville right now. A major event that leads up to the Kentucky Derby, it’s been moved to Aug. 15.
Due to the COVID-19 quarantine, however, the Ibison family of rural Vicksburg has had to adapt to keep themselves afloat right here at home.
They decided to think outside the box and start selling their fare – elephant ears, corn dogs, hand-squeezed lemonade – at their Brady Township home for a three-day trial. “The community response was wonderful” says Misty Ibison, who is half of the husband and wife team that runs the business. “During the first weekend, people were waiting four hours to be served. We stayed open until 10:35 that night so that we didn’t have to turn anyone away.”
It was a long day for the Ibison family, who started preparing well before they opened at 11 a.m. After seeing the turnout, the Ibisons decided to open daily. It went well until Brady Township needed to shut them down because their home is zoned for residential use. The township supervisor, however, informed them that they could continue to operate on a commercially-zoned property.
“I contacted the owner of the BP gas station (at the corner of Sprinkle and V Avenue), who lives in Chicago, and he graciously allowed us to rent the parking lot, at least through the end of May.”
It’s been a good move for the Ibisons, who have seen a significant number of new customers due to the more visible location. “We’re still doing quite a bit of business, but thanks to our longer hours, the wait is shorter,” says Ibison. Their new hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. This gives them three days each week to help their 8-year-old son with his homework from Indian Lake Elementary.
To keep them from working too hard, their neighbor has been bringing them meals. “It’s amazing to see people come together to support one another,” says Ibison. They are returning that support by serving medical staff and first responders for free.
Hard work comes naturally for the Ibisons. Misty’s husband, Russ, began making elephant ears 27 years ago at 14. Their offerings expanded over the years, and today they have a half-dozen concession trailers, each offering a unique menu.
To keep her staff and customers safe, they are going above and beyond their already rigid cleaning schedule, which includes using a disinfecting spray and washing their hands regularly. The business is staffed by two families from the same household, so contact with each other isn’t a concern for them. To avoid direct customer contact, they are only taking credit card payments and they slide orders to customers across a 6-foot table. They can be reached at 269-806-5549.
This lack of direct customer contact may have its costs, says Ibison. “I’m really worried about how this will affect the way we react to one another.”
That’s not the only worry on her mind, however; the festivals that they normally participate in have been canceled through June, and even some of the July festivals are shutting down. “We would rather not be on the front lines, but we need to provide for our family,” says Ibison. She has spent hours on the unemployment website, but support for those who are self-employed is not yet available.
“I’m concerned that it will take longer than anticipated for us to get through this,” she says. “I’m hoping we will have answers soon so that we know how we will need to adapt to the new normal.”