Working with Waypoint Bank – Cozad, Kristen and Eli have cooked up a recipe for success

In July 2020, Kristen and Eli Bennett took off on their annual motorcycle trip. By the time they got back to Cozad, the couple returned home with much more than road trip souvenirs.

During that ride through Wyoming and Montana, the Bennetts stopped at a laidback bar and restaurant that served pizza, wings, and local beers on tap. It was not only a good time but it was an inspiration. 

“We loved it, and knew that’s what we wanted to do,” she recalled. (Well, at least she did.)

mth buildingAs luck would have it, that same summer, the long-vacant building at 714 Meridian Ave. in downtown Cozad became available for sale. Fast forward to February 2021, and the Meridian Tap House was in business. 

Today, with Kristen commanding the kitchen, Eli running the dining room (when he’s not working his day job for Cozad Utilities) – and their three daughters pitching in in a variety of roles – the “MTH” has since become a go-to dining spot in Dawson County. In fact, since its opening, it has won recognition in The Lexington Clipper-Herald “Best of Dawson County” annual list in a whopping 10 categories! It’s a draw for locals looking for a hearty sandwich or an easygoing alternative for hungry travelers happy for a break from I-80 traffic (the restaurant is just a mile off the highway, and a stone’s throw from the 100th meridian landmark).

It only takes one look at the menu to see that Kristen and Eli also bring a helping of personality to their work.

Serving up good learning opportunities

 With menu items inspired by pop culture references – such as “Notorious P.I.G.,” “Weekend @ Bernie’s,” and “Wrappers Delite”— the food isn’t the only way the Bennetts try to win a smile from their customers.

kristen and libbyFor the older Bennett daughters, Libby and Lola, their jobs have ranged from busser to server to organizing inventory to even running the kitchen when needed. For nine-year-old Lenor (who goes by “Bear” to family and friends), the tasks include rolling silverware, helping with the food truck when the Meridian Tap House goes mobile, marketing, and sipping slushies.

The three Bennett girls aren’t the only local youngsters who show up for duty on a regular basis at the Meridian Tap House. “We hire lots of kids,” Kristen said. “In fact, we had nine high schoolers working with us last spring.”  

Kristen sees the part-time jobs as a chance for young people to prepare for the real world.

“I believe that learning to manage time and money at a young age is very important,” she explained. “Besides doing restaurant work, we talk about what makes a good employee.”

“I would like to think that after working with us most of our kids have developed a skill set that really has nothing to do with restaurant work; it’s more along the lines of better communication practices, learning to work with people that have different personalities, and how to still have a positive work environment when those personalities clash.”

Connecting to family and community

The family support for Kristen and Eli doesn’t end with the daughters. When Kristen needs help smoking meat (the Meridian Tap House smokes 150 pounds a week to keep the patrons fed), her dad often lends a hand. Her mom frequently staffs the food truck and generates a portion of the social media promotions. event`

Many family friends, including two women who worked at the daycare where Kristen and Eli used to take their daughters, are also part of the Meridian Tap House team.

“Those family members that are ‘adopted’ when we are short-staffed – they all throw on their MTH shirts and can be found helping out in the kitchen, clearing tables, taking orders, and making drinks,” Kristen adds. 

As life-long Cozad residents, the Bennetts are always keen to give back to the community. Kristen is active in the Cozad Chamber of Commerce, but it doesn’t stop there.

“They do tons of giving back to Cozad as well through volunteering, donations, and ideas they come up with,” said Sheri Hladky, Vice President of Waypoint Bank – Cozad. “For this summer, every Tuesday, MTH pays the admission for any child who goes to the swimming pool. Great people, and we are lucky to have them be an integral part of our community.”

A future banker in the family?

In addition to banking with Waypoint Bank, the Bennetts may have found another connection to their community bank.

Last school year, Waypoint Bank – Cozad opened the Haymaker Student Branch at Cozad Elementary School, which encouraged students to start saving money. It has sparked nine-year-old Lenor to take an early interest in finance. As Kristen tells it, “My youngest can’t wait to be a teller for that branch with Sheri and the Waypoint Bank team leading her!”

But Kristen already counts herself as a Waypoint Bank fan.

“I believe that they truly know their customers and care about them,” she said. “They know bits of our lives and ask about those bits when appropriate.  I never feel like I am a hassle for them to have to deal with. They are very welcoming.”

Eli echoes that he and the entire family are so grateful to live in a community that continues to build each other up and support one another. 

The Bennetts radiate a slogan found on their shirts: Live Local, Love Cozad.

  • Kristen, Eli and “Bear” at Cozad Music Mondays.


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