Cindy Zajac saw the news scroll across her TV early Tuesday morning that Max & Erma's would offer gift cards to the first 100 people at the restaurant's reopening.
Picking up the phone, the 46-year-old Toledoan dialed her son Austin Snow. The two hatched a plan to be first in line.
Ms. Zajac, in Carhartt overalls and a bulky camouflage jacket, rushed with her 20-year-old son to the restaurant. The duo waited in near-freezing temperatures before sunrise outside the revamped eatery at 1391 Arrowhead Dr. in Maumee.
As some of the more than 100 people who turned out for the giveaway waited in their warm cars, Ms. Zajac and her son were unwavering in their determination to be first.
They didn't budge from their spot until the doors opened shortly after 11 a.m.
"We dug up our warm hunting clothes and our camping chairs," she said shortly before receiving her gift card.
The gift cards are for $10 of food each week for a year, so the promotion will cost Max & Erma's $52,000 retail if the recipients use the cards for their full value.
Max & Erma's at Arrowhead and Dussel Drive was closed in August, 2010, by its former owner.
About the same time, the Max & Erma's chain was bought by American Blue Ribbon Holdings LLC, which decided to remodel and reopen the Maumee location. The restaurant boasts new decor, fireplace, and open-bar seating.
The chain also has restaurants in Perrysburg and Sylvania.
Steve Weis, vice president of operations for Max & Erma's, said Tuesday he wanted to mark the reopening with a special event. The gift-card giveaway is the first event of its kind for the firm, he said.
"I was talking with my staff one day, and I wanted to do something that gives note we are back," Mr. Weis said.
The marketing ploy worked: A line stretched from the front door to the back of the building. The parking lot was full.
Kelly Peitz said her boss gave her the morning off to stand in line.
The 40-year-old Petersburg, Mich., resident works nearby and couldn't pass up the chance to receive a free lunch once a week for a year. She'd been in line for about two hours.
"It reminds me of Black Friday," Ms. Peitz said. "I had to call my mom, because we do Black Friday every year, to say that I wished she was here."
Many people have been affected by the economy, and giving away food was sure way to draw a crowd, said Pamela Ryan, who had been standing in line for about an hour.
"It's a little silly, but pssh, I'm number 77," she said.
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