A possibility of a free meal once a week for a year kept about 40 people from their beds Sunday night.
Instead, they camped out in tents and sleeping bags — shivering in temperatures in the low 50s and chilly winds — on the sidewalk outside the new Costa Vida Mexican Fresh Grill which opened Monday in Richland.
Franchise owners, brothers Russ and Bob Cazier, offered the first 25 people through the door Monday morning a Platinum punch card entitling them to a free meal once a week for 52 weeks.
The next 25 received a Golden punch card, giving them a free meal once a month for a year.
Those were incentives enough for Bryan and Nissa Flanagan of Kennewick to urge their three kids and a neighbor to pack a tent, sleeping bags and a variety of cold weather gear to camp out at the new restaurant.
The family took up their vigil about 6 p.m. Sunday along with a portable TV, Xbox, cellphones and even the family cat.
“She spent the night in the tent with us, keeping me warm and entertaining the others in line,” said Nissa Flanagan. “We took her home Monday morning. I knew she wasn’t going to get one of the cards.”
She estimated they’ll save about $1,800 over the year. And better yet, no cooking once a week for a year.
As the line grew, her husband, Bryan Flanagan, started a list of names, assigning each a number, and passed it down.
“I wanted people to know when the line reached 25,” he said. As the night grew colder and later, the list kept growing.
Wendy and George Cicotte and four of their seven children were some who spent the night. They were Nos. 18-23.
“It was my husband and two sons, Alan and George, who were excited about doing the campout thing,” said Wendy Cicotte of Kennewick. “I went along with it; we all love the food.”
Spending the night in line turned out to be “a fun, community thing. We chatted, got to know each other,” she said.
Others arrived in the early hours of Monday.
One of them was Alan Cicotte’s grandmother, Linda Gunter of Richland. Her number was 47.
“I hadn’t planned on getting in line. I called my daughter and offered to bring them breakfast and they talked me into coming down,” Linda Gunter said.
By 9 a.m., the line extended down one side of the building and around the corner.
Most of the people were already familiar with Costa Vida’s menu, having eaten at the Kennewick outlet that opened in 2011.
“It can be addictive,” said Bob Cazier. “The food is all made fresh in our own kitchen, which is open so people can see it being made. There’s not a freezer in the place; nothing is predone.”
Sharon Shirey of Pasco, No. 50, urged her family to join the line Monday morning.
“I saw the flier and called for more information. When I found out they have a whole gluten-free menu, I said, ‘Let’s go.’ Our son, Clayton, has to be gluten-free, so we seldom go out to eat,” she said.
Her husband, Bob, and son were Nos. 51 and 52. But corporate representative Bonnie Elhalta extended the cards for free monthly meals to another 25, giving them cards too.
“My family hardly goes out to eat and this,” Shirey said, brandishing her card, “makes it more affordable. And there’s more for Clayton to choose from.”
The restaurant is at 95 Gage Blvd., Richland. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Another Cost Vida outlet is scheduled to open in January at 3015 Duportail St. in Richland near Gold’s Gym.
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