The conventional gift for a 25th anniversary is silver, but Robb and Madeline Ahlquist are anything but ordinary. Anyway, it’s not their relationship that needs celebrating (though it is pretty remarkable how the duo single handedly erected three of Worcester’s flagship restaurants.) This anniversary is actually on behalf of an inflatable crustacean who has graced The Sole Proprietor for 25 years and counting. His name is Buster. And, if you don’t know Buster, you don’t know Worcester.
Countless families make their yearly treks each July to pay a visit to Buster the Crab who was conceived a quarter of a century ago when the Ahlquists were forced to close The Sole Proprietor’s doors for a week’s worth of renovations. They knew the restaurant would require a “jump start” to ramp up business after the hiatus, and took to brainstorming innovative marketing ideas that might get new customers through the door.
The Ahlquists weren’t expecting that their three weeks with Buster that first July would outpace their entire month of sales from the previous year. After Buster’s first summer, they knew they would have to bring him back. When the inflatables company that owned Buster finally went out of business, the Ahlquists decided it was time to adopt him officially. They purchased the rights to Buster and the rest is history.
“We start getting calls every Spring asking when Buster will go up on the roof. The numbers are still better every year than they were the year before,” says Robb Ahlquist.
Long ago, The Sole Proprietor treated Buster’s homecoming as a celebration. “We used to blow him up in the parking lot and bring in fun games. It was as much for our employees and their kids as it was for anyone else,” Robb Ahlquist remembers. On July 1st from 11 a.m. – 1p.m., the tradition returns.
For Buster’s 25th, The Sole Proprietor will serve up a special menu of hot dogs ($2) and Crab & Corn Chowder ($2) with all proceeds benefitting No Kid Hungry. “Buster will be inflated on ground level so kids can crawl in his claws and on his arms for pictures,” Robb Ahlquist explains. Face painting and balloon artists will also be on site.
If you’re wondering about Worcester’s other favorite inflatable, Orson the Polar Bear of Polar Beverages, he promises to make a guest appearance in mascot form. At 1 p.m., Buster will be hoisted up to the roof, and by 4 p.m., crab specials will dominate the menu.
Along with The Sole Proprietor’s crab-centric fare this July, the eatery will also encourage young visitors to pay homage to Buster via coloring contest. Robb Ahlquist says, “We post every single picture inside the restaurant; by the end, the walls of our entryway are covered in hundreds of kids’ creations. It makes for great art!”