- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - It’s the little root beer stand in Kenmore that can.

For 60 years, customers have been coming back to the B&K; Root Beer for the curbside treats, including the iconic dog with “Spanish sauce” and homemade root beer.

But perhaps the biggest reason for the unusually long life of the stand is the people who have worked their buns off there, cooking and carhopping for decades. The three longtime employees include Karen Cartwright, who started there as a carhop when she was a sophomore at Kenmore High School. She’s now 61 years old. She’s still a carhop.

“I pay the bills. I make the big decisions,” said owner Jeff Fulkman, 64, a grandson of the man who started the place at the corner of Manchester and Wilbeth Roads, south of downtown, in 1955. “But these guys … they run it. They have been here for so long - so many years.”

“These guys” are Will Cheatwood and Cartwright.

Cheatwood is the manager and cook, making 20 pounds of Spanish sauce a day, “except on really slow days,” in the small kitchen of the concrete building painted orange and brown.

He’s been there since the 1960s, since he was in his teens. This year, he turned 72.

In 1970, he hired Cartwright. She’s the daytime carhop, serving up the sauce and dogs that Cheatwood steams and the root beer he brews.

Both work seven days a week during the March-through-October season.

“I don’t like change,” Cartwright said, laughing. She noted that for years she had the same winter job: working in the stockroom at one and then another local J.C. Penney store.

“It’s been a good living … I paid off my house a year or two ago,” said Cartwright, who is single, of her home in the working-class Kenmore neighborhood.

Cheatwood, the manager, said he wasn’t thrilled when Jeff Fulkman’s father, Jim, who owned the stand at the time, asked him to work there in the 1960s.

Cheatwood had been working at another of Jim Fulkman business’ - Jiffy Burger in Cuyahoga Falls - and he enjoyed that job.

“I had to be talked into it,” he said of going over to the B&K.; “But once I figured it out, it was perfect for me. I could pretty much do what I wanted here. It was like it was my own business. I was left to do what I considered to be right.”

What was right, in Cheatwood’s mind, was treating the place like it was his own business, “making sure the whole atmosphere is good, that the food and the service is good,” while keeping prices low.

No pre-made root beer or sauce for him. Those inside the building can watch the homemade root beer flow from the 55-gallon still through a skinny clear hose to the tap. The root beer is served in chilled glass mugs, just as it has since the beginning.

“There’s hardly anybody that makes homemade root beer anymore,” he said. “Everybody is going to those tanks.”

The menu has expanded over the years and today includes meatball sandwiches, Philly cheesesteaks and chicken nuggets.

Cheatwood keeps up the authentic retroness by yearly painting the inside of the place. He frequently paints the outside - the same colors it has been since the beginning. Inside are the wood counter and shelves Cheatwood made years ago.

Initially, the stand was part of the B&K; chain, which began in Michigan City, Indiana, in the 1940s. B&K; stands for Bergerson & Kenefick.

Jeff Fulkman’s uncle Ed Fulkman brought the first B&K; stands to the region in early 1950s. The uncle’s success inspired his father, Chester Fulkman, to open the stand on Manchester Road.

Today, the remaining B&K; stands are independent. Some eventually dropped the B&K; name. There are a few stands in the Greater Akron area that have kept it. Only the stand on Manchester Road has remained in its founding family.

Current owner Jeff Fulkman notes the place has passed down through three generations, and the longtime employees worked for many years for his father, Jim, who died in 2010. Jim Fulkman and his brother took over the stand in 1957, following the death of their father.

Jeff Fulkman, who lives in Coventry Township, and his three younger siblings - Scott and Steve and Jody Geraci - in turn inherited the place in 2010. Jeff oversees the business for the family.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Jeff Fulkman visited the place, as he does at least once a week.

Cartwright, the carhop, was wearing jeans and a yellow anniversary T-shirt with the number ‘60’ on the back. Cartwright, quick to smile, took orders from a steady stream of customers. The lunch rush was over, but still there was no time to sit on the orange and brown bench that says “Curb Girls Only.”

Cheatwood was in the kitchen, his longish hair flapping underneath his brown B&K; visor as he moved about, filling orders.

Area teens who work at the stand during the summer were back at school. The other longtime employee, Linda Kelly, who has been at the B&K; for 38 years, wasn’t there.

It was just Cartwright and Cheatwood, looking younger than their years, and customers - who more often than not see the stand as a fixture in their lives.

Customer Bonny Menser, a retired U.S. Postal Service clerk, pulled up with her granddaughter, Amber Menser, 15, and noted: “I’ve been coming here since I was a little girl with my parents. I came here with my husband. I brought my sons here.

Some half a dozen or more times a season, Michael Grof, 53, and his girlfriend, Julia Swain, stop by for a dog, french fries and root beer.

“We’re loyal,” Swain says, noting their two meals run a total of about $9. “You can’t beat that.”

“You spend more than that at McDonald’s,” Grof chimed in.

But there’s a comforting, nostalgic feeling at play, in addition to the cost, the couple said.

“It’s personable here,” Grof said. “I’d rather do this than speak through a speaker” at a drive-thru.

“This place never changes … it’s like family,” Swain said. “When you talk to the people in the other cars, they’ll say they’ve been coming here since they were a kid.”

Of course, with time there are changes. Cartwright said it’s harder than it used to be to get going on cold days. Cheatwood has a granddaughter working at the stand. Still, neither is thinking of retiring.

It’s a job that brings Cartwright happiness. “I get to take care of people every day,” she said. “Make sure they get their order and they get some pleasantness.”

This summer, Jeff Fulkman opened Highland Squared Musicorner guitar shop in West Akron. Earlier, he owned a business that installed window blinds. He also ran a guitar shop in Kent.

He was not involved in the B&K; business before 2010. During his father’s prolonged illness that year, he asked him, “Should I be training, learning anything about the business?’”

His father replied: “No. Those guys there have it down.”


Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, https://www.ohio.com

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