Grub Shack owners to run Ashton Visitors Center

Sterling and Suzanne Nielsen plan to run The Grub Shack food truck while also running Ashton’s Visitor Center.

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The Grub Shack will set up its food truck next to the Ashton Visitors Center in exchange for helping provide tourist information to travelers.

It’s a prime location for the Grub Shack and also saves the city around $10,000 a year in employee costs, said Ashton Mayor Tom Mattingly.

“Things are getting a little tight (financially),” he said.

Last month during its council meeting, the city decided to allow Grub Shack owners to set up shop at the visitors center in exchange for doubling as center volunteers. In making the decision, no jobs were lost. The center’s employee from previous summers found work elsewhere earlier this year.

“We didn’t have to fire anybody or lay them off,” Mattingly said.

Finding someone to work at the visitor’s center has always been difficult, said City Clerk Cathy Stegelmeier.

“It’s been a hard position to fill. It’s about a three and a half month job. There’s not a lot of people who want to work that,” she said. “They want a full-time job that goes into something. This one was never going to be that.”

Instead, the city opted to look for a business that could answer visitors’ questions while running their business inside or next to the center. With the annual tourist season quickly approaching, the city was under pressure to find a business to help with the visitors center.

Mattingly said that a coffee shop owner had considered helping out at the facility, but didn’t have enough time to set up shop and declined to do so.

Without the added help from a business, the visitors center would not reopen, said Stegelmeier.

“It was either stay closed, or see if anybody wanted to (help),” she said.

To the rescue came Grub Shack, owners Sterling and Suzanne Nielsen, and their son, Chris.

The Nielsen family has always loved to cook and setting up a food truck has been a dream of theirs, said Suzanne.

“This has been on my husband’s and son’s bucket list to do a food truck. Sterling loves to cook. He probably should have gone to culinary school. It’s just satisfying to feed people. It just is. It’s just fun,” she said.

The Grub Shack will feature hot sandwiches like Philly Cheese Steaks. They’ll also offer breakfast burritos, and for dinner they will dish up ribs and fish tacos.

Sterling has spent the past 25 years Dutch oven catering, Suzanne said.

“All of our food is done in the Dutch Oven,” she said.

The couple heard about the city looking for a business to help oversee the visitors center and attended the recent city council to offer their services.

“The city council seemed pretty excited to have someone to manage the visitors center, so they don’t have to worry about it,” Suzanne said.

At the center, the Nielsens plan to hand out brochures, to give directions and to send people into town to shop. They also hope to have volunteers helping them with the visitors center. They’ll also be responsible for cleaning and maintaining the facility. The city will take care of other maintenance needs such as changing light bulbs and fixing plumbing problems.

The Nielsens will set up shop four days a week and will be open for breakfast by 8 a.m. on those yet-to-be-determined days. They will be working there from now through September.

Mattingly said that the Nielsens can also invite other business owners to set up inside the visitors center. Anyone interested in doing so needs to go through the Nielsens.

“Sterling will allow other people to come in if they’ve got something they want to sell. They can arrange a day or a weekend to sell their product in there. They’ll also have to take care of the visitors center, answer the questions of the area, and hand out brochures,” Mattingly said.

Next summer, the city expects the Nielsens to return and hopes to have additional businesses set up shop there as well — at no charge in exchange for running the visitors center.

“They’ll need to coordinate through Sterling. He’s the main person right now,” Stegelmeier said.

It’s all a win-win situation for everyone involved as the city won’t have to worry about paying an employee to run the visitors center. It’s also the perfect place for Grub Shack to set up shop, Mattingly said.

“The visitors center was one area we could cut back (on our budget),” he said. “It’s a darn good location for Grub Shack.”

For more information on setting up a shop at the visitors center call 208-652-3987.