Good Neighbors

Mystery Customer’s Larger-Than-Life Tip Brings Relief To Local Restaurant

His act of kindness is helping to keep the doors open at his favorite restaurant.

In my 10+ years as a bartender, I've served drinks and have gotten to know plenty of people from all walks of life. Those who came in to the restaurant often became more like friends, or what a lot of us in the industry refer to as "regulars."

So, when I heard about a customer putting up a billboard to help advertise his favorite restaurant in Detroit, MI during the pandemic, I thought, 'that sounds like something a regular would do.'

The digital billboard appeared at the 9 Mile exit on the 1-75 expressway on April 27th and stated that both locations of the Balkan House European restaurant were open for take-out and delivery. The sign even included professional photos of the restaurant's signature döner kebabs.

The Balkan House is known for serving central European cuisine, including their famous Berlin-style dönor kebabs. Duma Ekic/Facebook

The owners and staff of the Balkan House didn't find out about the billboard until about five days after it was posted.

"It was just something that made everybody happy," The Balkan House's co-owner Ariana Ekic said. "All my employees, everybody wanted to go take a picture next to the sign."

The Balkan House was gearing up to celebrate their one-year anniversary when the coronavirus hit, forcing the owners to close two locations and lay off dozens of employees.

"When it just started, Ferndale was doing very bad," Ekic told the Detroit Free Press of one of their locations. "I was afraid: two rents, all these employees. They have families to feed. We didn't know what to do."

The owners decided to close the Ferndale shop for a few weeks, but were able to re-open in May for curbside pick-up. Now, Ekic requires all employees to wear masks and gloves, and any customers entering the restaurant are required to wear masks, too.

To accommodate new health regulations, the Balkan House requires all workers and customers to wear masks when they enter the restaurant. Duma Ekic/Facebook

The restaurant's business has been picking up in recent weeks, and while there's no way to track if the increase in sales is a direct result of the billboard, it certainly didn't hurt to get the word out in such a huge way.

Eventually, the mystery donor called the restaurant to let them know he was the one who put up the billboard.

The Balkan House has seen a large bump in orders, likely thanks to the new billboard. Duma Ekic/Facebook

The customer called himself 'Joey O.' and said he works for a billboard company. Joey said paying for the billboard was the least they could do to help the small business stay afloat.

"He found our logo and stuff on our website and he said he and his crew just wanted to do something nice because they love the food and it could help us bring some business during hard times," Ekic said of their conversation.

The Balkan House has already been participating in community events to help feed heathcare workers, but they're hoping they can pay it forward even more after receiving the billboard donation.

"He brought tears into our eyes," Ekic said of Joey O.'s immense act of kindness. "I don't even know how to thank him."

The Balkan House staff has donated hundreds of meals to healthcare workers in their community. Duma Ekic/Facebook

How can you start something good?

Inspired by Joey O.'s incredible act of kindness?

You might not be able to rent out a billboard, but you can still support your favorite small businesses during the coronavirus crisis. Order takeout or delivery, buy gift cards, shop online – these are just a few of the things you can do to help small businesses in your community stay afloat.

Let's #StartSomethingGood together!

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