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Here to serve you - Waitresses at the Landmark

By ANDREA FURLONG

landmark
Five of the Landmark’s longest-serving waitresses take the order of long-time customer Marv Doschadis. The wait staff and two cooks have over 230 years of combined experience working at the Landmark. Pictured, from left, are Pam Morrison, Crystal Radnich, Rita Thatcher, Darlene Leonard and Shelly Gerard.

The eight full-time waitresses at the Landmark, Williamsburg, have different reasons as to why they started there years ago, but the reason they come to work today is the same – they can’t imagine working anywhere else.

“Everyone here is a lot of fun — customers and people I work with. Some of them I’ve been friends with for 35 years,” said Rita Thatcher, Williamsburg, who is the Landmark’s longest serving waitress with 29 years.

In the diner that is located directly north of Interstate 80, no full-time employee has served under 16 years. If you were to combine the total number of years of the Landmark’s two full-time cooks and the longest-serving waitresses, you would find 230 years of experience in the service industry inside one restaurant.

STARTING OUT

Some waitresses (Barb Iburg, 16 years; Bette McClenathan, 17 years; Pam Morrison, 23 years; and Thatcher) came to the Landmark as young mothers looking for an extra source of income.

“I was only going to work here six months, said Thatcher, who temporarily moved from Texas with her family to care for an ill relative, “but I started liking it and I liked the people and I didn’t want to leave.”

Like Thatcher, Bette McClenathan, Guernsey, did not set out to become a long term waitress, either. McClenathan came to the Landmark 17 years ago after the interstate restaurant she had been working at for 10 years to help support her family changed hands.

“I guess after all this time it is a (career), but I never thought I’d do it this long,” she said.

McClenathan cites the variety of customers that interstate restaurants bring in as one of the factors that led her keep waitressing at the Landmark.

“There are all different kinds of people that come in. I really enjoy visiting with people and seeing where they’re going and helping their families. A lot of times this is a halfway (meeting) point from Omaha or Chicago or Kansas City, and they’ll meet here,” McClenathan explained.

Lois Weiss, 19 years, Victor, joined the Landmark after the restaurant she’d worked at for nine years closed.

“I did it as kind of a part-time job when my three kids were in school and I enjoyed it so much I just kept on doing it,” she said.

Other waitresses, like Shelly Gerard, 25 years, and Crystal Radnich, 19 years, worked so they could have spending money.

For Gerard, Millersburg, the wages initially went toward a master’s in library science.

“I started making money for graduate school and I never made it to graduate school,” she said.

Radnich, North English, saved the waitressing wages from her first job, so that the then 16-year-old could purchase a class ring. Little did she know she would return to work there 32 years later after her first marriage ended.

“I just figured it would be a class ring,” Radnich said.

Darlene Leonard started driving to work from Ladora 19 years ago at the request of a friend. But long after her friend left, Leonard stayed on because she found the type of work enjoyable.

“It’s not going into a factory . . . where you punch a clock and you stand by a machine all day. It’s with different people every day. Every day is different,” Leonard said.

LIKE FAMILY

In a work environment where you’ve kept the same co-workers for over a decade, the place begins to feel like family. Many of the wait staff have worked with the sons and daughters, and sometimes grandchildren, of their co-workers. They’ve celebrated their birthdays together, mourned at customers’ and families’ visitations together and supported each other through difficult times.

Radnich recalls how the entire wait staff volunteered to work her shift off and on for six months while she underwent medical treatment for lung cancer three years ago.

“Every one of them pitched in to cover my shift and see if I needed anything at home,” Radnich said.

Likewise, Pam Morrison, North English, was very grateful to her co-workers when they closed the diner early, so everyone could attend her father’s visitation. And when they celebrated her long-awaited grandmotherhood last year, it made the moment even more special to her.

“Everybody was just as excited as I was because they knew how badly I wanted to be one,” she recalled.

GOOD HUMOR

The Landmark family has also shared many laughs together through awkward and embarrassing moments, like the time a waitress got the hem of Gerard’s dress stuck in a vacuum, pulling it up to Gerard’s waist and throwing her to the floor.

“All I could do was lay there and laugh,” Gerard said.

Or the time Thatcher became the milk shake she was attempting to make.

“All the malt stuff went all over my glasses, all over my hair. I was covered. And I yelled, ‘Oh, son of a b-----,’” Thatcher recalled.

Or the time one customer’s unusual tastes led to an informal evacuation of the building.

“On a busy Friday night a man ordered a steak that was not cooked at all. I asked my manager if that was okay and he said it was, so I served it to him. It cleared out the whole area. Everybody left while this man was eating it,” Morrison said.

Or the time a presidential candidate walked out without paying.

“(Michael) Dukakis. We call him ‘the eyebrow guy.’ The campaign manager thought he paid the bill, he thought the campaign manager paid the bill and they just never paid. The waitress was just mad because he didn’t leave a tip,” Thatcher said.

A GOOD WAITRESS

Besides the family moments the Landmark waitresses have shared, they also share a deep concern for their customers. All eight define a good waitress as “helpful and friendly,” but many of them have gone above and beyond that definition.

“We don’t have a co-ed bathroom where (a man and woman) can come in and help one another, so when you have a male come out and wants you to take his wife to the bathroom and help her, what do you do, say ‘No I’m not going to help her?’ We do stuff for people that is different or odd, but you do it just to help them out,” Leonard said.

Other odd requests have included food delivery to parts of the restaurant other than the dining room.

“A woman wanted a BLT and her husband said she couldn’t have it, so she wanted me to bring her a BLT to the bathroom and I did it,” Thatcher recalled.

And some things they do for their customers are simply acts of kindness, like checking up on Williamsburg customer Marv Doschadis, 91, who’s been eating at the Landmark ever since it opened in 1964, and now eats there at least twice a day every day.

“If Mr. D isn’t here by 9:30 in the morning, we start calling to make sure he’s OK,” Morrison said.

Some call it a restaurant. Others call it a job, but for the waitresses at the Landmark, it’s the home of their second family.

“It is a family. You spend more time technically with this family than you do with your family at home,” Radnich said.

The longest-serving employees also include cooks Christine Wiermann, 32 years, and Colleen Bair, 38 years. Doschadis, one of the Landmark’s most loyal customers, awarded the 10 longest serving employees with a special plaque recognizing their years of experience this Christmas.

UPDATED January 6, 2010 11:14 AM

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