One of the most popular iconic stops along old Route 66 is officially back open for business, much to the delight of long-time customers from all around the four states and beyond.
Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger, 915 North Main, Miami. was closed for about four months after its owner, Gene Waylan took a medical leave.
But the beloved restaurant officially reopened just in time for Christmas. “It’s a Christmas miracle!” one happy customer said on Facebook.
“We are thrilled to have the Ku-Ku back open," said Amanda Davis, executive director of the Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). "Gene, Gayle and their team are such an important part of our tourism product we sell to visitors.
"The Ku-Ku is so unique and it provides that ‘experience’ that the visitors are looking for. Great food and Route 66 stuff that can’t be found just anywhere."
Davis said many visitors will stop at the CVB and tell us they stopped for a photo with the bird.
"That bird is in Route 66 guides all over the world. It’s truly an international hot-spot," Davis said. "We posted a welcome back message on the Visit Miami OK Facebook page and had almost 43,000 impressions and nearly 10,000 that engaged and opened the post. Folks were excited to be able to welcome back the Waylans."
Gene Waylan has seen customers that came all the way from Australia and Japan while traveling Route 66.
“One customer from Japan made a trip on Route 66 in 2012, and to the Ku-Ku, then went back home and published a book about the trip with lots of photos, including of Ku-Ku," Waylan said. "When he returned he told me about it and then went out to his car and brought one of the books in and gave it to me.”
When asked about the huge response to his re-opening, Waylan said with a chuckle, he was not surprised.
“Even my doctor in Joplin said he needed to get me back to work because everyone was giving him so much grief for not releasing me," Waylan said.
Steve Gilbert, director of the Miami Chamber of Commerce agreed.
“The Ku-Ku being open again…the first thing I have to say is ‘YES!’ Everybody is making their way there to enjoy a good cheeseburger and fries and everything that goes with it," Gilbert said. "The Ku-Ku is an iconic Route 66 institution and we are just glad it’s back open.
“It’s like you don’t really appreciate something until it’s taken away from you and we just hope it is never taken away from us again.”
Back in business
When asked about the huge response on Facebook to the Ku-Ku reopening, Waylan said, “I don’t have much to do with that. I make more money up there (cooking) than I do sitting back here on the computer.”
And, due to the overwhelming response to his re-opening, Waylan said he hasn’t had much time to meet and greet customers.
“More people know me than I know them. Some of them I know…by their orders, not their names," Waylan said, adding his biggest struggle is to find good help for the restaurant.
"I have ‘help wanted’ signs out there all the time and I get applications every day, but usually when I hire them they won’t stay…they usually only last a few hours or days before quitting," Waylan said. "They don’t want to have to work that hard, I guess."
Without a full staff on board yet, if someone gets sick and can’t work, then Waylan can’t open the restaurant; he is that short-staffed.
He values his long-time employees so much that he even paid them while the restaurant was closed in order to keep them.
“It’s not like it used to be, but it’s ok," Waylan said, about returning to work. "A lot better than it was. I’m still getting around, just slower.”
Watching Waylan at work behind the counter on the grill, patrons would never believe that anything has slowed him down.
His enthusiasm for what he does is as contagious as ever.
“The lines are long…it’s not as fast as fast food…but it’s good food," Waylan said. "Nothing is cooked ahead.
"I have a lot of people tell me they have been trying to get in to eat since we opened back up, but couldn’t wait for the long lines…that we were so busy they had to go somewhere else. And I understand that."
Business at the Ku-Ku continues to boom, despite having been closed temporarily.
Residents of Miami and all around the four-state area and beyond have posted comments on Facebook celebrating the restaurant’s reopening.
“One of the best burgers and chili fries,” Krissy Munn posted.
Larry Moore said, “Best burgers ever. No place else this good!” and MiShell Garver said, “Best fries ever.”
Ashley McCarty posted, “If you're ever in Miami, Oklahoma, or passing by to get to Joplin, stop in and have one of the most awesome burgers ever! We make a stop here almost every time we come to see my sister. They may be crowded sometimes, but they are worth the wait. I fell in love with them because they taste just like my granny Barton's hamburgers. I literally cried when I ate my first one because my granny passed away 11 years ago and I hadn't tasted anything close to her burgers since.
“I now know what it feels like to win the lottery! Ku-Ku is back in business and I got the first double cheeseburger!”
For now, Ku-Ku’s is open shorter hours than in the past, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, but will start staying open longer when they are fully staffed, Waylan said.
“I am thrilled that our beloved Ku-Ku is back open. Gene, Gayle and the Ku-Ku are legendary!” said Larry Reece, a former Miamian and now senior associate athletic director of development for Oklahoma State University Athletics. “Coming back home without a stop for a giant cheeseburger leaves a void in my life and my stomach."
Waylan knows he has built a legacy filled with nostalgic and historic meaning in downtown Miami.
“That’s what the kids that come back from school say…come back home for…to go to Ku-Ku, because it’s the same as it was over 40 years ago," Waylan said. "They always tell me there’s not much the same here except for Ku-Ku.
"I’m proud of my work — going on 46 years now.”