Five Viking Cafe waitresses combine for century of service [UPDATED]Published 10:37am Monday, February 18, 2013 Updated 10:57am Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Four of the waitresses at the Viking Cafe combine for nearly 100 years of service at the restaurant downtown. Many of the other staff members have each reached double digits in their years worked as well.
No wonder most of them refer to the Viking as a family.
“It’s fun to work here,” said Bonnie Nyberg, a waitress who has put in 20 years at the Viking Cafe. “You meet a lot of different people. It is like family. Everybody gets to know everybody.”
Many of the staff have left at some point, either for a different job or to raise children, but they seemed to find a way back to the Viking Cafe.
“It means everything,” said Viking Cafe owner Pat Shol. “They make this place what it is. They treat it like a career. That’s definitely a stand-out feature.”
Waitress Jane Burton has worked at the Viking Cafe for 31 years. She said hearing the phrase, “just a waitress” can be offensive.
“I think everybody here loves it, or we wouldn’t be here,” Burton said.
It’s not just the cooks and wait staff that are like family. The customers are, too. Eighty percent of Viking Cafe customers are regulars, said Shol, who has been the owner for 10 years. The restaurant has been in his family since 1967. They’re not just customers, as the relationships blend in to that of good friends and family members, he said.
Tuesday, a customer stopped by just for a quick visit with Shol at the counter. The retired gentleman had no reason to come to town, except to visit the Viking.
The round table in the back of the restaurant is occupied for a couple hours each morning by the same group of guys. A member of the group arrives at 5:45 a.m. to reserve the table so the guys can talk about everything from sports to politics to vacations. They’ve been doing it for 45 years, Shol said.
“It’s called the table of knowledge,” Nyberg said. “They talk about everything.”
A group of women has started meeting on Wednesdays, too.
A lot of the regulars know the waitresses about as well as their own family members, Shol said. They also know the work schedules, so if a waitress isn’t there for a scheduled shift, customers ask if they’re OK.
That point rang true when talking to customer Phyllis Lamb, of Fergus Falls.
“You become kind of like family,” Lamb said. “If I don’t come in for a few days, they’re like, ‘where’s Phyllis?’”
She works in the field of home health care and usually stops by the Viking Cafe once a day for a cup of coffee … and maybe some of that comfort food to nibble on, too.
“How can you come to the Viking without eating?” Lamb said. “I like their food because it’s good home cooking.”
It’s about the friendly customer service for her as well. Ten-year Viking Cafe veteran Nyla Roman waited on Lamb Tuesday, and she knew immediately what Lamb wanted.
“To me, that means a lot,” Lamb said.
She said the experience at Viking Cafe is kind of like a family reunion.
Burton has developed close bonds with customers. She’s received gifts for her grandkids. A 90-year-old man who stops in every Friday for coffee and a doughnut gave her a large monetary gift for Christmas. Lots of support came her way last year when her father passed away. It’s those big life events that people are really invested in, she said.
“You really kind of keep in touch with them,” Burton said.
Facebook has made that easier as well, with photos and other ways to get to know about each other’s families. The waitresses are also there for their customers to hear their good times and bad, much like a hairdresser or bartender, she said.
“Customers appreciate those waitresses as much as waitresses appreciate those customers,” Shol said. “I think it’s a two-way street.”
Years of service among Viking Cafe staff:
Waitresses: Jane Burton, 31 years; Peggy Carlson, 25 years; Nancy Hagberg, 21 years; Bonnie Nyberg, 20 years; Deb Burley, 12 years; Nyla Roman, 10 years; Jeanie Wofford, 7 years. Others, one to five years.
Cooks: Jim Adelsman, 22 years; Lowie Boettger, 12 years; Jason Grothe, 10 years; Steve Magnuson, 7 years.