Every morning, Jack and Carrie Wandler make 35 to 40 gallons of borscht. Their delivery van features the license plate “BORSCHT.” Gourmet magazine and the Today Show have tried, unsuccessfully, to wheedle Jack’s recipe for borscht out of him.
Today, people come to Jack’s Family Restaurant in Dickinson, N.D., from all over the area and across the land to have a cup or bowl of Jack and Carrie’s borscht, a light concoction of red beets, cabbage and other less obvious ingredients. Downstairs, there is a large private room for parties. And they have catered for as many as 500 people.
“You have to be different from everybody else,” he said.
The chicken is pretty good, too, and there are bits of artwork showing chickens on the walls. The restaurant sells T-shirts. One says: “It’s worth crowing crow about.” Another says: “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to Jack’s”
Like a lot of other people in western North Dakota, the Wandlers get some oil royalties, but as he puts it “not enough to get rich on.” And he says that this year the restaurant business is running 15 to 20 percent ahead of last year, mostly because of the oil boom. A lot of the oil workers tip more, too.
But mostly the family mourns the passing of a simple time. They say crime is up and the number of road accidents, too. “There are a lot of weird people walking around,” Carrie says.
Then there’s the difficulty of keeping employees. Ordinarily the Wandlers hire nine people for each of two shifts. But it’s hard to hang onto people and some now work split shifts. They’ve trimmed their hours, closing at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. to make it easier on the staff. Jack says you can spend hundreds of dollars or thousands seeking help and “may get one applicant.”
The borsht remains constant though. It’s part of a tradition in this part of North Dakota, Jack says. His wife’s family was Ukrainian and settled with many other Ukrainians in Belfield, about 20 minutes away. His family came from Germany. Borscht was common in both communities. Jack credits Carrie’s mother for contributing a big part of the soup secret. Of course, he’s not telling what it is.