HELENA — As the novel coronavirus continues to furlough and even eliminate positions across the nation, employees are turning to creative ways to keep income flowing.
Helena's Chris Starr was one of thousands affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A brand ambassador at Traeger Grills, Starr was furloughed from his job in March. Days later, he set out on a new, yet old, venture -- turning his Rockstarr BBQ food truck into a full-time gig.
"This is my second job, it’s my, I guess you could say, my hobby. I’m currently furloughed from sales of barbecues right now and this gave me the opportunity to launch Rockstarr BBQ, get it out in the public and share that. Potentially, this could be the full-time gig now, as I’ve seen a lot of success."
That may be an understatement. Rockstarr BBQ, which had previously been seen at local breweries and various events, opened on Friday, March 20. Hours later, they were sold out, a common theme in the past month, despite continually increasing their productivity.
"With everything going on right now, Rockstarr BBQ is actually flourishing. The opportunity to launch this (in March) with this business full time, and the huge outpouring of community has been tremendous. People that can are coming out and they are eating."
"Right now we’re trying to keep up, and that’s a big challenge with barbecue taking 24 hours to prepare for people. When we sell out, we sell out. It’s heart-breaking to say, ‘I’m sorry but we don’t have it,’ but we’re doing our best to keep up and increase our productivity."
Starr works alongside Sean Lane, another former Traeger employee who was furloughed, and Brooke Ark, a Helena High School student. All three enjoy visiting with customers and hearing how they have adapted to the current coronavirus restrictions.
"What I find from the public is, it might be the first time they’ve gotten out of their house in three weeks. They are so happy to interact with someone," said Starr. "One thing they’re always asking is how we’re doing. They genuinely care, and we genuinely care about them. What can we do for them? What ideas do they have that we can maybe do?"
"There’s also a lot of people that, though affected, may be working at home, but are coming out to eat," he continued. "They’re offering extra money so that I can pay it forward to someone in need, so maybe I can get a free meal to that otherwise couldn’t."
Starr says he typically works road shows and at Costco for Traeger Grills, with the furlough expected to last until the end of May, though "there are no guarantees," he says. In the meantime, he remains humbled by the Helena community's support during his new endeavor.
"It’s just great to be together in this in a time that’s, it’s different," he said.
To learn more about Rockstarr BBQ and where their food will be served each day, please click here.