Unique T-Shirt Boosts Morale, Aids Whitehouse Shop Owner

Look at Me employee Michele Bowler and owner Tami Riffle show some of the many customized masks they’ve made. The shop recently filled an order for nearly 1,800 T-shirts for McDonald’s employees, thanks to a referral from JAM Small Engine owner Dennis Tippie. MIRROR PHOTOS BY KAREN GERHARDINGER
McDonald’s Waterville employees (from left) Jadyn Roth, Grace Ellis, general manager Lisa DeRose, Austin Roth and line manager Leslie Rondeau are essential workers.

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Blue and white are Tami Riffle’s colors.

As the owner of Look at Me Signs, Graphics and Screenprinting in Whitehouse, Riffle gets her green by custom-making Anthony Wayne Generals wearables.

Thanks to the imagination of Waterville McDonald’s line manager Leslie Rondeau, Riffle is printing a lot more in red and yellow these days.

“We wanted to do something for our workers,” explained Rondeau, who dreamed up the idea for a T-shirt that proclaims “I’m Essential,” utilizing the golden arches for the M.

General manager Lisa DeRose agreed, and 125 shirts were ordered for the three franchise locations owned by Larry Moore, including Conant Street in Maumee and Airport Highway in Swanton.

DeRose shared a photo of the T-shirt on a site for McDonald’s owner-operators. The owner of 23 restaurants in Northern Kentucky loved the idea and wanted the same shirts, so he contacted Riffle.  

“When they called and asked me to make the same shirts for them, I thought they’d ask for a few hundred,” Riffle said. “He ordered 1,650. That was the start of the turnaround for my business. This business is all about school. When they shut down, I had no other income for my family.”

Staying at a safe social distance, Riffle, her family and friends worked around the clock to make “I’m Essential” T-shirts to ship out within three days.

“It’s great how it blossomed. We’re glad to support a local business,” said Rondeau.

Like all restaurants, McDonalds switched to drive-thru-only service due to the pandemic. Business has remained brisk, but not as many employees were needed since the dine-in area was closed. At the same time, about 10 employees chose to not work during stay-at-home orders.

The 50 who remain to work breakfast, lunch, dinner, maintenance and management are essential to the business, DeRose said. 

Because of a limited staff – and in order to streamline the distribution process, as food items come from multiple locations – Mc-Donald’s pared down its menu, eliminating chicken wraps, parfaits and salads.

“Customers have been really positive and understanding,” Rondeau said.

Knowing that cookies were being taken off the menu, the crew baked up the remaining 800 cookies and delivered them to downtown Waterville businesses and Whitehouse and Waterville police and fire departments, as well as St. Luke’s Hospital, DeRose said.

First responders who show an ID – including, police, fire and health care workers – are given a free meal, as well.

“We give out 40 to 50 a day,” DeRose said.

Having restaurants open for takeout food is essential, DeRose said.

“People rely on restaurants,” she said. “There’s no way we could have closed.”

Those who used to sit in the restaurant now might sit in the parking lot and use the free WiFi, Rondeau said. Truckers ring a doorbell and place an order to be delivered to the back parking lot. Others use Grub Hub or Door Dash to deliver.

To keep employees and customers safe, temperatures are taken upon arrival and more sanitizing and handwashing are taking place. In addition to gloves, workers are now wearing masks. While disposable masks are available, many are bringing in their own homemade versions.

Upon seeing Riffle’s prototype for a smiley-faced yellow mask created out of layers of soft T-shirts, Rondeau ordered 20 to test out at the Waterville McDonald’s.

“If the crew likes them, we’ll order them for the three stores,” DeRose said.

McDonald’s customer Dennis Tippie, owner of JAM Small Engine in Whitehouse, is the one who recommended that DeRose contact Riffle. 

“We all have to support each other,” Tippie said.

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