[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
BOARDMAN — Sespe Burger is donating free combo meals daily to help alleviate the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Valley restaurant workers.
The West Coast-style burger joint owned by husband-and-wife team Jeff and Christina Porter opened at 8252 Market St. in September 2019 after originally starting out as a food cart.
Although a fairly new business, Christina Porter said Sespe’s Burger is prospering during the pandemic.
“We're really blessed that we have the drive-thru with our location. That really helped us out a lot because it allows us to keep our employees safe inside while offering a contact-less experience for the guests,” Porter said. “We've been able to keep all of our staff.”
Even though Sespe Burger is still operating with a full staff and menu, hours have shifted to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
“[We shifted hours] to keep our employees healthy and not to overwork them so much, and it allows us to rotate through people to give them a break,” Porter said. [It] also allows us to take time to do way more cleaning and make sure everything is safe and clean.”
According to Porter, Sespe Burger wanted to use their resources to give back to the restaurant industry during this time.
“We're really lucky that our business is still doing good during all of this, so we wanted to help out our other fellow industry workers and even owners that are struggling right now,” she said. “We felt like, you know, it's not much, but we wanted to do what we could to help them in whatever little way we could.”
Interested parties should direct message Sespe Burger’s Instagram account, @sespeburger, and provide their name and restaurant of employment. Then, they can reserve a time slot between 2-3 p.m. to pick up a combo meal.
The meal includes a burger, french fries and drink and is limited to seven people a day. According to Porter, Sespe Burger can also provide meals for family members of the restaurant workers who reserve a time slot.
“They might [private message] us on Instagram and say, ‘Hey, I was laid off from this restaurant and having a hard time. I have a family of four.’ We then provide four combo meals for them,” Porter said.
Sespe Burger specializes in California-style burgers that are typically hard to come by in the Mahoning Valley.
Porter, a Boardman native, said she met husband Jeff, a Los Angeles native, while working on a food truck in California. The couple decided to settle down in Boardman — and bring the flavors of the West Coast with them.
“There were certain types of foods that we missed eating like breakfast burritos and smash burgers … the thin patty with really basic toppings. We couldn’t find anything like that around here,” she said.
According to Porter, she was shocked that other community members also craved Southern California-style burgers made up of lettuce, tomato, onions and Thousand Island dressing, too.
“Everyone who hasn't been out to the West Coast likes it and then the people who moved out to the West Coast for a while or [who are] from there definitely appreciate us making this in Boardman,” she said.
Porter said she wants to encourage other local restaurants to give back, too.
"Even just a little bit adds up,” she said.