When Angela Hansberger, a food writer from Tucker, Georgia, missed going to restaurants as part of her job after the pandemic hit, she decided to open a restaurant of her own – for one non-paying customer.
It may sound a bit nutty, but it all began when her uncle sent her a tiny picnic table, originally meant for squirrels, and a customer immediately showed up. Suddenly she was in business. And he became a regular.
“The chipmunk’s name is Thelonious Munk [after the late jazz artist Thelonious Monk – geddit?] because I was listening to jazz while making one of his tiny meals,” Angela says.
While it started out modestly, Angela’s tiny restaurant has evolved into quite the fine-dining establishment. And Thelonious Munk must be loving it because he returns daily sometimes just hanging out at the empty table waiting for his meal to be served.
Not surprisingly, Angela’s Instagram posts about her elaborate mini menus have garnered a huge following, with many followers offering feedback on food tips for her furry friend. And her creativity knows no bounds: Angela has made everything from tiny “sushi” and a little “nut burger” to a backyard BBQ and a rodent ramen bar for Thelonius to enjoy.
The special dishes she creates for her only customer take time and effort – and have kept her busy and occupied during lockdown. She cut up an old bandanna she had been using as a face mask and made it into a tiny tablecloth; the dishes are made out of bottle caps.
“I began plating his dishes, learning about what was good and not good for a chipmunk diet and trying to make entrees using nuts, grains and fruit,” she wrote in an essay for Bon Appetit. “I thought about the restaurants I missed and made tiny tablescapes in homage to them. I missed ramen and sushi. I missed having a cocktail at a bar and talking with the bartender. I soon added a bar with barstools which I could change into a ramen bar or a sushi bar.”
The discerning chipmunk eats whatever she dishes up apart from cabbage, peppers, shelled peanuts, strawberries. And while he may not be paying in cash, he often leaves a little bundle of leaves and flowers behind — like a tip!
“I started posting photos on Instagram and people had the kindest comments about how this was such a happy thing during a dark time,” she said. “Some said it brought them joy and they looked forward to a new photo. So I began posting more. My husband helps me craft things out of scraps around the house. He made the BBQ smoker and built the bar. He made tiny rubber boots the other day when it was raining.”
The miniature meals include pizza with an almond crust topped with raspberry paste and almond flakes, tacos stuffed with walnuts, shredded carrots, millet, farrow and what seems to be one of his favourites, fresh blueberries.
She’s already done a graveyard scene for him for Halloween, so what’s next for the gourmet rodent? Angela has a little more campfire action in mind for him. The little campfire is made of rocks hot glued together and seems to be a hit with Thelonius. She’s also planning for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The table for one is no problem for the epicurean critter as chipmunks generally are loners and keep to themselves except in mating season.
Angela told Bon Appetit: “News is bleak and we are all feeling physically and socially isolated. But every day, there is also Thelonious, a chipmunk who sits down to eat in a world without a doomful election and a deadly virus. This is how I am coping, laying out a picnic, watching tiny hands hold my tiny food. It’s silly, yes, but sometimes silliness is needed.”