“I worked for Caterpillar for 28 years before I retired in 2009. Four years before that, my oldest son was killed. One month later, my father passed away.

“When that happened, it made me come to the realization that life is too short – I needed to figure out what I was doing with my life. I was a single parent for many years and raised three children. I had lost everything in the 2008 market crash. So I said: ‘I’m tired of this, I need to start taking care of me.’ I took early retirement and left.

“It was a hard decision, but it was the best decision for me.

“I opened Bradford’s Snack Shack in July 2018 with one of my daughters and two of my granddaughters.

Bradford Snack Shack

“Each year we’ve had another mountain to climb, but it hasn’t been the end of us.

“During the winter of 2018 we had a blizzard hit and it took our power out for three days. A restaurant without power doesn’t operate. That power outage wiped out all of our food supplies, so we decided to close up for the year.

“We waited until April 2019 to open up again. [But] we were forced to close again because a water line was broken during construction at another business. Our water source was affected and we had to close until the water supply was tested and passed. We reopened three days later and business was booming, we were back on track.

“And now, we have a whole new crisis to face.

“Do I want to keep on climbing all these mountains? Not really. But will I? Yes. Because we provide a service to our community and because we provide jobs for our employees. It would be easy to throw up my hands and be done. I’m not ready nor am I willing to do that.

“We are a very small rural town, with 750 people in our whole village. Operating this business is a challenge, with the added burden of minimum wage hikes, all the additional taxes that have been implemented, and the concern of the possibility of a progressive income tax coming our way.

“But the village tells us they are glad we are here and everyone has been very supportive since we opened. During this pandemic and the closures, it’s been very hard on my employees and the community.

“I have a staff I trust and depend on to keep things moving and to keep the business going. They take care of the customers in a very friendly, hometown way. I pretty much try to stay in the background, handling payroll, finances, and working the evening shifts. But my employees run the business, and without them I’d be in real bad shape. We’re a team.

“I always think about my son – he had just turned 35. I was lucky to have him those many years. I still want him today, but he’s gone. Losing him has made me a more compassionate, empathetic person. There are other people out there who suffer, too, and to be able to share your story helps them realize they’re not alone either.

“I guess that over these past few years, I’ve learned that no matter what, there are always opportunities in life. We have to grab onto what we can, because we’ll never get back what we lost but that doesn’t mean life can’t be gratifying.”

Melanie McCullough
Owner of Bradford Snack Shack
Bradford, Illinois