Coney Dogs With a Side of Appreciation

By Megan Trent

May 31, 2011 Updated May 31, 2011 at 6:16 PM EDT

DECATUR, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Today's special - inspiration. The impact of one special needs teacher is extending far beyond the classroom.

It's a restaurant with one very special difference. Andy & Friends Coney Bar in downtown Decatur is a restaurant ran primarily by people with special needs and volunteers.

"I serve the hot dogs on the grill," says restaurant employee Andy Burkhalter.

His sister, Missy Burkhalter, helps run Andy & Friends. "We are actually not for profit under Saint Mary of the Assumption in Decatur. So all of our profits go back to other organizations that support the Gift of Life."

The Gift of Life supports bone marrow donations across the country, but the positive effects of this restaurant extend even further.

"We just want to raise awareness that these guys are wonderful people and they deserve a purpose," says Missy Burkhalter.

Most of the workers in the restaurant are former students of Rick Koester, a special needs teacher at Belmont Middle School.

Tuesday, Koester brought his current students to meet his former students - hoping their coney dog lunch would be served up with a side of inspiration.

"It's just a good experience for everybody," says Koester. "Students kind of get a peek at the future. It's nice for me, because I kind of get to look at the past of students and see how they're doing."

Alissa Hausauer, a special needs student of Koester's at Bellmont, says, "That is pretty much amazing, because we get to see every student in there that used to be in Mr. Koester's class."

Koester knew he was coming for lunch, but says he was surprised to see a cake prepared in his honor and a sash with the word HERO on it. "I'm one of the lucky ones. I love my job. I love coming in and doing it."

Burkhalter says, "He's just been an encouragement to all of us for a long, long time."

If you're in the Decatur area, don't forget to stop by Andy & Friends (129 Madison) for a bite to eat and lesson in life.

"We are celebrating everybody's life, every day at the Coney Bar," says Burkhalter.

Amy Isth, and former student and now proud employee, says that idea sounds, "So cool."


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