Posts tagged #Sharkey’s

PROUD TO BE A LIFER

On the game show The Family Feud the question on the board was, “What occupation would you least like your wife to have?” The number one answer: “Waitress.”

Waitressing has always carried a stigma and is rarely taken seriously as a profession. In Leon Elder and Lin Rolens’s book Waitress: America’s Unsung Heroine, a waitress she interviewed, said, “At first, I was reluctant to appear in this book. . . . For one thing, my husband thinks I work in a bank.”

It’s not surprising that waitressing carries a negative connotation. For many, it’s a job of last resort or something to fall back on if life doesn’t work out as planned. Take the word “lifer,” for example. It literally means someone serving a life sentence and signifies extreme struggle, physical labor, and poverty. Despite its negative associations, many career waitresses embrace the term like other groups of stereotyped people who have taken a racial or homophobic slur and used it as a source of empowerment. When asked about being called a “lifer,” Sondra Dudley says, “Yeah, that’s what I am. And proud of it.”

Sondra Dudley - Buttercream Diner. Napa, CA

Sondra Dudley - Buttercream Diner. Napa, CA

Esther at Sharkey's in 1969. Gardnerville, Nevada

Esther at Sharkey's in 1969. Gardnerville, Nevada

Esther who has waitressed over forty years says, “So many people look down their noses at you. They ask, ‘You do this for a living?’ Well, it’s an honest living. I did what earned the most money. I’ve always made a good living. What’s the big deal, women wait on their husbands and their kids all the time and don’t get a damn thing for it. So why is it any worse?

It’s worse because class is a critical factor. It’s the number one social issue that plagues American culture, and the only issue that surpasses race. Regardless of how socially conscious we are, there is something deep inside the human psyche that regards service work as less meaningful.

Linda Exeler - The Colonial Cottage. Erlanger, Kentucky

Linda Exeler - The Colonial Cottage. Erlanger, Kentucky

Linda Exeler says, “Some people feel like they’re better than us. [They say] ‘Get me this or get me that!’ It’s too bad they’re like that, because, I have no problem getting anything. Actually, I’ll walk an extra hundred miles for ’em if I had to. That’s how much I enjoy it.”

Joyce Widmann -  Crystal Diner  .  Lawrenceville, New Jersey

Joyce Widmann - Crystal Diner.  Lawrenceville, New Jersey

Joyce Widmann doesn't like it when people say she’s "Just a waitress," as though it’s not a real job. Joyce says, "I’ve done other ‘real’ jobs. I have my real estate license. I prefer to do this. Plus, I make more money.”

Paula Hazzouri - Buena Vista Cafe.  San Francisco, California

Paula Hazzouri - Buena Vista Cafe.  San Francisco, California

Career waitress Paula Hazzouri has a degree from Boston University. She said, “My parents were so embarrassed that I waitressed my entire life. This is not what I was supposed to do. But even with my college degree I learned that waitressing paid more, so I just stayed with it, plus it afforded me more freedom.”

Sammi DeAngelis - Seville Diner.  East Brunswick, New Jersey

Sammi DeAngelis - Seville Diner.  East Brunswick, New Jersey

 At the Seville Diner in New Jersey, a customer actually told Sammi DeAngelis, “You’re just doing this because you're not smart enough to do anything else.” Sammi said, “Excuse me? I have a degree, I could be teaching. I’ve done public relations and business management. . . . I tell you what, if you can do my job for an hour, this money is yours.” After an hour, the customer said, “I’ve been watching you and that last table was a handful. Maybe I couldn’t do your job.” Sammi said, “‘Really? What part of it didn’t you get: the public relations, the psychology, the physical labor?’ Now she’s one of my regular customers, she likes to sit with me so she can watch me work.”

Ronnie Bello - The Boulevard Diner.  Worcester, Massachusetts

Ronnie Bello - The Boulevard Diner.  Worcester, Massachusetts

Ronnie Bello sums it up by saying, “I’m not ashamed, I can walk with judges and lawyers, I can fit with anyone because I know what I do and I’m no phony. This is me. I’m a good waitress, I love people and that’s my attitude and if you don’t like me for that, that’s your problem. I’m not a snob.”

The Diner Preference: Leave Formalities at the Door

Annie - Venus Diner. Gibsonia, PA

Annie - Venus Diner. Gibsonia, PA

Career waitresses have been dishing out everything eggs to insults for up to 60 years and they do a lot more than serve food. They are part psychiatrist, part grandmother, part friend, and they serve every walk of American life: from the retired and the widowed, to the wounded and the lonely and from the working class to the wealthy.

In a culture where chain stores mandate employees to speak to every customer who walks through the door, it’s refreshing to come to a place where people know each other and the staff can just be themselves. Diner waitresses are often rewarded for sharing their personality and their mood with the locals; whether they are pleasant, indifferent or cranky. Irregardless, there is an authenticity and honesty in diners that is missing in our everyday lives. Even though there are regulars who socialize at the counter at chain restaurants, corporate rules are still in effect. To avoid lawsuits, the staff monitors what they say to each other and to their customers, making it a more structured, formalized and regulated environment. Mae say she prefers working in a diner where formalities are left at the door. In her Kentucky drawl, Mae says, “I could never work in a fancy restaurant. I’m too liable to holler at people and ask them if they want their usual when they come through the door. You can’t do that in a fancy place.”

Mae. Edith's Cafe. Central City, KY

Mae. Edith's Cafe. Central City, KY

In diners, waitresses are also free to tell their customers exactly what they think about the latest political scandal or local gossip — as opposed to servers who work in upscale places where the staff is told to never discuss religion, race or politics. Diner patrons tend to be friendlier than customers in upscale restaurants, where they expect a different type of service. When people are spending more money, they often expect a servant. Sammi, a waitress at the Seville Diner in New Jersey says, “I prefer working in diners. I’ve done the fine-dining where people think that because the checks are high, you’re supposed to kiss their butt. People who spend $200 for dinner think that you owe them something. I don’t care if the bill is $2 or $200, I treat everybody the same.” 

Sammi. Seville Diner. East Brunswick, NJ

Sammi. Seville Diner. East Brunswick, NJ

So the next time you see a veteran waitress wiping down a table in a diner, take a second look and appreciate her lifetime of service. Say thank you and leave at least a 20% tip. National Waiter and Waitress day is next week on May 21st.

For the Love of Diners

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Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner in the desert town of Yermo, California has a sign above the door that reads: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone — Regardless of who you are, who you think you are, who your daddy is, or how much money you make.” This is why I love diners. In a society where money and class takes center stage, in diners, fur coats hang next to cowboy hats and Jaguars and junkers sit side-by-side in the parking lot. 

In neighborhood institutions the counter is a makeshift community where 'everybody knows your name.’ It’s like Cheers without the liquor. Customers bring warmth, character and vitality and become extended family members to each other and to the restaurant staff. One regular at Betsy’s Pancake House in New Orleans says, “It’s like sitting on your front porch with your neighbors.”

I love to stay connected to the places I documented for Counter Culture. Has anyone visited any of these diners?  Does anyone have stories to share about these places? If not, tell me about your favorite restaurants and the people who work there. Let's make this a forum to celebrate them! 

Gold 'N Silver Restaurant.  Reno, Nevada

Gold 'N Silver Restaurant.  Reno, Nevada

Florida Avenue Grill. Washington DC

Florida Avenue Grill. Washington DC

Pie 'N Burger. Pasadena, California.

Pie 'N Burger. Pasadena, California.

Butter Cream Bakery & Diner.  Napa, California.

Butter Cream Bakery & Diner.  Napa, California.

The Venus Diner. Gibsonia, Pennsylvania

The Venus Diner. Gibsonia, Pennsylvania

RESTAURANTS IN COUNTER CULTURE

Al’s Good Food - San Francisco, CA

Betsy’s Pancake House-  New Orleans, LA

The Boulevard Diner - Worcester, MA 

The Busy Bee - Atlanta, GA

The Butter Cream - Napa, CA

The Colonial Cottage, Erlanger, KY

The Copper Cart - Seligman, AZ 

The Crystal Diner - Lawrenceville, NJ

The Crystal Grill - Greenwood, MS

Edith’s Cafe - Central City, KY

Florida Avenue Grill - Washington, DC

George J’s - Glasgow, KY

Gold N’ Silver - Reno, NV

Harry’s Plaza Cafe - Santa Barbara, CA

Louis’ Restaurant - San Francisco, CA

Mastoris Diner - Bordentown, NJ

The Meadowthorpe Cafe - Lexington, KY

The Melrose Diner - Philadelphia, PA

Miss Florence Diner - Florence, MA

Mojo’s Bowling Alley - Sun City, AZ

Mt. Vernon - Somerville, MA 

Ole’s Waffle Shop - Alameda, CA

Pie ‘N Burger - Pasadena, CA

The Rainbow Casino Coffee Shop- Henderson, NV 

Ryan’s - Florence, AL

Sears Fine Foods - San Francisco, CA

The Seven Seas - Sausalito, CA

The Seville Diner - East Brunswick, NJ

Sharkey’s- Gardnerville, NV

The Sip ‘n Bite - Baltimore, MD

Sittons Diner - North Hollywood, CA

Trio Restaurant - Washington, D.C.

The USA Country Diner - Windsor, NJ

The Venus Diner - Gibsonia, PA [Closed]