DECATUR — For nearly four years, Robert Eastin has been a dishwasher and night maintenance worker for Cracker Barrel restaurant on Decatur's far north side, riding his bicycle to work every day from downtown.
Through all kinds of weather, Eastin, 50, uses his bike to make the 6-mile trek to his job, and other places. Those miles can put a lot of wear and tear on a bike quickly.
His co-workers noticed the condition of his bike and wanted to help, so nearly 30 Cracker Barrel employees contributed to buying Eastin a new bike.
“Over three days, people from all over the store, from the restaurant side to the retail side, donated what they could,” said Diane Rodriguez, one of Eastin's co-workers at Cracker Barrel. “And we even had enough money to get accessories for the bike, like a light, since Robert rides it at night.”
The green seven-speed Huffy also has extra reflectors, a lock, a water bottle with a holder and a horn.
“I’ve never purchased a horn myself, but they meant well,” Eastin said.
Eastin said he was surprised and happy about his gift.
“I felt pretty blessed that I work with people like that. We aren’t around people like that a whole lot," he said.
The servers picked and purchased the new bike before surprising Eastin on Sunday, June 17, as he arrived for work.
Co-worker Leslie Hunt described her fellow employees as a family.
“So it was special to see everyone get involved to support Robert, who always goes above and beyond on the job,” she said. “Our team is inspired by him daily and got excited and on board with the idea immediately.”
Staff members said they felt a sense of compassion for Eastin as they watched him travel on a worn-out bike, dutifully arriving at work each day.
“We see him do it every day coming to and from the store,” Rodriguez said. “He’s never late and is an incredibly hard worker, so when we noticed his old bike kept needing repairs, Leslie and the rest of our team thought we could make his commute a little easier.”
Cracker Barrel's Decatur general manager Jeff Monney has seen the positive relationship Eastin has with the staff.
“He is a fantastic employee, willing to do anything that we want,” Monney said. “The servers all love him.”
Before he received his new bike, Eastin had a red Huffy that was made for comfort, not speed.
“It was a coaster bike,” he said.
According to Monney, Eastin has gone through several bikes since he began working at the restaurant four years ago.
“Sometimes they were not in the greatest shape,” Monney said.
During the bad weather days, Eastin arrives to work prepared.
“I just wear a raincoat,” he said.
On the snowy days, “I just take it slow and easy,” he said. “The trick is try not to stand up too much. If you are sitting down, it makes it harder for you to fall down.”
With a good bike and ideal weather, Eastin’s trip takes about 30 minutes.
“That’s if I want to,” he said. “I’ve been doing this pretty much all my life, so I know what to do.”
Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR