All-in-the-family enterprise

YAKIMA -- Anthony Wade grew up watching his dad flip burgers and scoop ice cream at Stop and Go Drive Inn in Yakima.

So when he was asked if he wanted to run the family-owned business six years ago, he jumped at the chance.

"I wanted to keep it in the family," said Wade, a 25-year-old Yakima native. "I like it. I like being my own boss."

The restaurant opened in 1948. It was managed by several people before Wade's dad purchased it nearly 15 years ago, running it until he died in a car accident in 2000. Several years later, Wade's mother let him take over the business.

At first, Wade ran it by himself -- doing everything from cooking and cleaning to hiring staff and ordering inventory. But for the past four years, he has shared these responsibilities with his brother-in-law, Craig Smith, 29, of Yakima.

"I really wanted to work for myself," Smith said, adding that he and Anthony make a strong team. "We're both really laid-back, and we both do our best to make this business prosper."

On most mornings, the pair arrive at work around 9 and begin prepping for the day. They package condiments, fry bacon, cut vegetables and stock supplies in the restaurant before the noon lunch rush.

Wade and Smith work in a compact space filled with a deep freezer, a fryer and other equipment. Customer seating is provided in an outdoor, parklike setting, and people walk up to the take-out window to place their orders.

Because it lacks indoor seating, Stop and Go does most of its business in the summer, Wade said. That's when the restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. The hours are scaled back the rest of the year.

"It doesn't feel like work," Wade said. "We make work fun."

The revelry comes through playing music and interacting with customers who hail from throughout the Yakima Valley and beyond, Smith and Wade said. Without hesitation, they said talking with people is what they enjoy most about their jobs.

Hiring and firing staff is what they like least. Although they have a core group of reliable employees, they said they usually experience problems with at least one person a year, either because the employee quits during the summer peak or proves to have a poor work ethic.

To differentiate themselves from similar restaurants such as Major's Burgers and Miner's Drive-In Restaurant, Wade said he tries to keep his prices competitive. He says a person could feed a family of four for $20, with menu items ranging from hamburgers and chicken strips to shrimp and cod. He also stocks more than 20 flavors of ice cream.

The menu has remained the same for as long as Smith can remember, partly because of space constraints and partly because they want to keep their customers happy, Wade said.

The most difficult times for the restaurant occurred after Wade's father died and later, in 2008, when Wade and Smith tried running another Stop and Go in Moxee. That business survived only a year because the costs and time required to run it were too great, Wade said.

Now, the two are content with having the one restaurant and have no plans to expand again any time soon.