Eatery cooks up late-night comfort

From partying to pilates, there are different ways of dealing with the stresses of college. But for many Duke students, the regimen includes seeking sanctuary and sustenance at Cook Out.

"Basically, I think Cook Out is amazing because of their 34 or so milkshake flavors... [and] the fact that they're open until 4 a.m.," says senior Eyan Townsend. "It's also nice that you can get a sandwich, two sides and shake for basically $5."

Owner Jeremy Reeves says he opened the restaurant because he "loved cookin' in the kitchen." The regional chain was founded on tenets of really fast food, friendliness and low prices-and satisfying a penchant for milkshakes, judging by their 39 flavors.

"Where else can you get 40 flavors of milkshakes in the middle of the night?" asks junior Jeremy Marshall, a Cook Out employee.

Apparently not many places, as people come in droves for them, congregating at all hours until the eatery's 4 a.m. close.

Many customers take the drinks for granted, but Marshall says a lot goes into making them. Each shake ought to be prepared in less than 30 seconds, he says.

"You know, we have to crush all the cookies that go into the milkshakes by hand," Marshall says. "They're very big on policy at Cook Out. And everything has to touch the chargrill last, to give it the distinct Cook Out flavor."

Many customers seem to worship the shakes, and they're hallowed in a way-wrappers and cups are graced with a biblical verse citation, for reasons unknown to many employees.

"I don't really know why that's there. I suspect they do it just as part of the business enterprise. It's a business," Marshall says flatly. "I think they're just out to make money."

Reeves says the passages have special meaning to him.

"Those are my favorite Bible verses, my grandmother's favorites," he says. "We just really hope they hit home for people."

But many students say they don't notice the religious references.

"Um, there are Bible verses?" asks freshman Erin Franz, analyzing her cup on her first trip. "I didn't know."

Reeves is the founder of Cook Out, and he's also really hard to find. He's analogous to his restaurant, in a way-as mysterious as the oblong buildings most people never enter.

Reeves opened the Greensboro-based chain in 1990, and "all stores are located in North Carolina, between highways 321 and 95," he says.

Though not nearly as large as some of its fast-food competitors, Reeves says that's not what Cook Out is about.

"We never drove very fast-we just wanna be the best," he says with a syrupy Southern drawl. "Our employees, and our customers, are just real good people, real loyal."

And many prefer it to on-campus eateries, including the campus' only 24-hour option, McDonald's in the Bryan Center.

"Cook Out seems to run 10 times better than the restaurants at Duke," Marshall says.

Though it can be a tasty late-night food run for students, working there is a different story.

"I think our food is really good for the price, especially if you get a tray, but working there isn't very fun," Marshall says. "Most people think, 'Oh, it's layman's work-anyone can do it.' But in reality, it's a pretty difficult job. It's harder than you think because you've got to go so fast and there are no chairs and it never lets up, and you've got to keep up with orders coming from both sides at once."

That feeling might change with experience, however. For Cook Out devotees, the high priest of the grill might be someone like "Bob," who has worked the late shift on Hillsborough Road for several years.

Bob's the person you'll see in the back, making french fries to order.

"It depends on how much patience you have," he offers. "It can be stressful. A lot of times, you're there from five in the afternoon 'til close. And clean-up takes another hour. So it's like five until five. You get used to it, though."

Late night is the "skeleton crew," which can be made up of as few as three people working the three service windows, Marshall says.

Still, Bob and Marshall both said there are some more gratifying aspects of the job, mostly related to interactions with the customers.

"On the weekends, it can be really funny," Bob says. "Especially later at night," when intoxicated patrons provide the evening's only amusement.

Marshall says he agrees that the weekends provide the most entertainment-when the bar rush and drunk people pour into line.

"People just like to mess with us, I think. One person used the restroom outside the drive-through window," Marshall continues, laughing. "Another placed his order with a box over his head. People fall asleep in line... lots of drunk customers, people on scavenger hunts, people who seem to be illiterate and can't figure out the menu."

Students will likely continue frequenting the restaurant-and providing such entertainment-as long as it continues to cater to the hours conducive to collegiate life.

Visits are not necessarily limited to late-night runs, however, as many cite cravings for the caloric food as an anxiolytic during the stressful exam period.

"Lately, I've been going there two or three times a week," freshman Jordan Fuson said. "It's wonderful, fatteningly cheap food. It's a good study break."


Share and discuss “Eatery cooks up late-night comfort” on social media.