Quick service is not fast food!
There is a definite difference between the two concepts as explained by Dean Rasmussen, owner of two Don & Millie’s restaurants in Lincoln and half a dozen in Omaha and Bellevue.
Don & Millie’s food production and concept execution is different from fast food operations, with the majority of items prepared from scratch. And then, there is the service.
Yes, one places and picks up an order at the counter, but the atmosphere of the restaurant and its staff is of casual dining, not gobble and rush. Customers get their orders quickly, but have the opportunity to enjoy the experience.
This all plays back to quality service as discussed by Rasmussen and the East O Street Don & Millie’s management team – Jill Bucknor, general manager, and Bunny Waechter, manager – good quality food and creatively conceived recipes, coupled with attention to the restaurant’s guests.
Rasmussen has been associated with quality Lincoln dining for some time, opening the West O Street Grandmother’s restaurant in the 1970s, followed by the 70th and A Street Grandmother’s. As a high schooler and University of Nebraska student, he worked at King’s Food Host, where he absorbed the business and learned what worked in a restaurant – ultimately resulting in the King’s burgers and cheese frenchees finding their way onto the Don & Millie’s menu.
He opened the first Lincoln Don & Millie’s at 5200 S. 56th St. in 1989, springing from his desire to establish a full-service restaurant like Grandmother’s but with a quick service concept. The East O Street Don & Millie’s opened in 2013 and is one of the larger Don & Millie’s operations.
Consistency is an important factor at Don & Millie’s – from attentive and courteous customer service to food preparation and even the menu. “The first Don & MIllie’s menu is basically the same as today’s, with only a very few changes,” Rasmussen says.
“Two things are critical [for a successful restaurant] – good food and good service,” he adds.
Consistency is also mirrored in the restaurant’s staff. Waechter was at Grandmother’s for many years before moving to both Lincoln Don & Millie’s, while Bucknor was an assistant manager at the 56th Street store in 1994 and became general manager at the East O Street store when it opened.
Hiring and training staff are handled by Waechter and Bucknor, working to instill a friendly and accommodating awareness within service staff. The pair say that they feel staff members do an outstanding job of servicing the restaurant's guests when they enter the establishment – greeting and welcoming them. That service and positive attitude carries over to the restaurant’s drive-through windows.
Don & Millie’s menu offers four salads: Large Garden ($3.99) and Beef Taco, Chicken Taco and Grilled Chicken ($6.29), with three baked potato choices: Regular (sour cream, butter and green onions, $2.49), Loaded (sour cream, butter, green onions, cheddar cheese and bacon bits, $3.39) and Chili & Cheese (chili and cheddar cheese, $3.39).
Hamburgers are King at Don & Millie’s with a choice of pickle, onion, mustard and ketchup. A regular hamburger costs $4.29, followed by a Double Hamburger at $5.29; Cheeseburger at $4.79; Double Cheeseburger, $5.79; the Double Don ½ lb., $6.49 and Triple Don ¾ lb., $7.59 (the Double and Triple Dons also come with cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon and mayonnaise).
Under the Specialties category are the Cheese Frenchee ($4.79), Smoked Turkey Wrap ($5.79), Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($4.99), Chicken Fingers ($5.29), bowl of Chili ($3.39), Baked Potato Soup ($3.39), Homemade Onion Rings ($2.29/$3.29) and Extreme Nachos ($6.29).
There are 11 combo meals featuring some of the burger and specialty offerings, ranging from
$6.49 to $8.69. And if you want something sweet, there is the Homemade Double Chocolate Chip Cookie for 99 cents.
Waechter says that the customer favorites are the Double Don and Cheeseburger, with the Cheese Frenchee and Taco Salad close contenders.
The restaurant also offers 99 cent monthly specials such as a chicken and rice bowl, chili or baked potato soup.
In a light-hearted manner, Waechter and Bucknor tout that Don & Millie’s restaurants have Happy Hour all day featuring the restaurant's 99 cent margaritas.
According to Waechter and Bucknor, the East O Don & Millie’s lunch crowd is generally local business people and construction workers from the surrounding area. The evening customers are predominately families and seniors.
But, who is Don and who is Millie?
Rasmussen explains that in his youth, he fondly remembers a small diner located on 20th Street south of O that was named Don & Millie’s. It was a husband and wife, Mom and Pop type of place – Don in the kitchen and Millie at the cash register.
At some point the diner closed. Years later, when Rasmussen was visualizing his concept of a quick dining service, he investigated to see if the Don & Millie’s name was trademarked – it was not. He thought the name was recognizable and that it fit his concept of good food with a warm and welcoming environment, without pretense.
“That’s what we do at Don & Millie’s,” Bucknor says – “We do simple, but we do it well.”