by Rick Badman
Durbanmeyer, Kansas was a place where families prospered. Farming was still a way of life that had a future. And with Durbanmeyer University making a name for itself in sports and the arts, the city was ready to challenge larger cities like Topeka and Wichita in many areas.
One person who wanted to benefit from the growth of the city was a stranger from Newgate, New York named Harvan Jaanguist. He opened Jaanguist Family Restaurant near the university just up the road from the grain elevator. Even the mayor turned out for the grand opening along with several hundred hungry people who wanted to sample such unusual dishes as farnon which tasted like a cross between chicken and steak, havansteak which was uglier than a lobster but more delicious, and the university students’ favorite, which was five-layer pizza. Most people assumed that with a name like Jaanguist, the foods must be some strange European delicacies.
There was also typical American fare like hotdogs, sausages, and of course, hamburgers. But he didn’t serve just a patty or two of ground beef on a bun smothered in special sauce. His burgers were as thick as steaks and required buns that were twice as big as conventional buns. For $1.85 (10 cents extra for cheese) you had nearly a meal in a bun. It soon became a favorite on the menu.
At about the same time the restaurant opened, trouble began at the elevator. People reported sighting giant rats in the silos and bins. They weren’t your typical rodents that a good mouser loves to attack. These were large enough to scare pit bulls away. They were resistant to poisons and needed to be shot in order to be killed. But every few days, the rat population would plunge and two days later a refrigerated truck would unload meat and produce at the restaurant. At first, people didn’t think much of it. After a few weeks of this happening, rumors were whispered around town. Eventually the joke was that the reason why the rats weren’t seen around the dumpsters at the restaurant was because they were being served on a bun.
Business was still brisk. But the innuendoes hurt the sale of burgers. It went from over 1000 burger sales a week to less than two or three a day. Even the health inspector paid a visit to the restaurant one morning shortly after the daily breakfast buffet opened. He met with Harvan in his office near the kitchen. Harvan was at his desk on the computer when the man stepped inside.
“Excuse me, but I’m from the city health and safety office,” said the balding civil servant. Harvan looked up from the screen and motioned for him to sit down.
“I was expecting you. Sit down, please.”
“I don’t have time for idle chatter. Since you know why I’m here, you know what I want to see.”
“Of course.” Harvan stood and accompanied the man to the kitchen. The inspector was surprised to find few food preparers but a considerable amount of automation. With the buffet going on out on the floor, most of the food was standard breakfast dishes; bacon, sausages, toast, pancakes, waffles, fruit, oatmeal, etc. There were robotic food preparation stations where certain menu items were prepared and then transferred to serving containers to be carried out onto the floor by the few people who manned the kitchen.
“Is this how you keep your prices low? You hire just a few people to work in the kitchen and rely on machines?” asked the inspector as he sampled a honey bun.
“This and because I have investments that allow me to lose money with this restaurant and still not go broke.”
“So this is more like a hobby to you.”
“Not exactly. It’s more like a service to the community and an experiment. Back in Newgate there is a restaurant similar to this one that is turning a profit. The food is good, the prices are reasonable, and the public frequent the place. I hope to do as well out here in Kansas. I’ll let you see what’s in my freezers.”
Harvan opened the door of the largest freezer where the meat was stored. The inspector was impressed by the huge sides of beef that were hanging from hooks from the ceiling. There were also other animals including some creatures the inspector had never seen before. He stared at a winged creature that had four legs.
“That’s a gryven bird. And no, it doesn’t taste like chicken,” said Harvan. “As you might have guessed, my dishes aren’t your typical all-American foods. They are exotic, but not so unusual that average people won’t eat them. Some of the typical American dishes I sell are burgers, steaks, fries, hotdogs, and apple pie. As you can plainly see, my freezer is rat-free. I’ve heard the rumors and I find them disgusting.”
One of the sides of beef began to move. The hook it was hanging from followed a track to the back of the freezer where robotic arms were dangling from the ceiling over a stainless steel table with a bandsaw in the middle of it. The right side of the table was long enough to hold the slab of meat and the left side was even larger. The carcass was lowered onto the table and the arms went to work on it pushing it through the saw and slicing it into certain cuts of meat and sliding the cuts into various metal containers. There was even a grinder at the right end of the table where the chuck, the round, and the sirloin was ground and deposited into more metal containers for the robotic formation of huge burgers Harvan’s restaurant used to be famous for.
“As you see, I use nothing but the finest beef for my burgers. If you’d like, I could fix you one. I hope it’s not too early for a burger, since it’s only a little after 7:00.”
“Why not? I skipped breakfast today to be here and I do like your burgers.”
“Great.” Harvan walked over to the table and removed a container of ground beef that had just been filled to have some of the meat prepared out in the kitchen. The inspector followed close behind.
Out in the kitchen, Harvan walked over to a boxy, stainless steel machine, removed a container similar to what he had brought out of the freezer, and replaced it with the one filled with meat. There was a touch-screen on top of the machine that had various selections listed.
“How do you like your burger?” he asked the inspector.
“I’m kind of hungry, so make it a double with cheese on top, in the middle, and on the bottom. I don’t need any other fixings.”
Harvan touched the appropriate boxes and a minute later, the warm sandwich came out of the machine on a conveyor belt ready to eat. The inspector picked it up and opened wide to bite into it. It was juicy and delicious. I little bit of melted cheese dripped on his chin which he wiped away with his finger and placed in his mouth.
“This is excellent. Could I have a regular coffee with this too?”
“Of course. I have a pot in my office.”
The men returned to the office to talk and drink some coffee. The inspector placed his sandwich on a plate before taking it out of the kitchen. He also grabbed a paper napkin. After some polite conversation and a couple cups of coffee each, the inspector was satisfied that there were no problems at the restaurant or with the food served. The kitchen was spotless and no human hands were without plastic gloves on them. It looked like the rumors of ratburgers being served would go the way of other urban myths associated with certain restaurants.
That night back on the farm Harvan had bought to grow fruits and vegetables and raise some of the animals and process them for the restaurant, the robots were busy feeding the livestock and processing some in the meat packing plant. But the cattle weren’t in livestock pens. They were in another dimension that Harvan shifted to at the back of the plant through an interdimensional portal. But they weren’t cattle. Their massive heads were full of dagger-like teeth and wide molars and their eyes were huge black orbs that made them look like aliens on four legs. They were chowing down on giant rats that had been feeding at the grain elevator less than 24 hours before. Bones were ground down by the molars and swallowed. The entire rat would be consumed and digested. Technically, no one ate ratburgers. They just ate the things that ate the rats and none of the customers complained about the taste.
Copyright © 2004 by Rick Badman