A Life of Service
Last year, BayouLife published an article honoring the men and women who take customer service to the next level in Northeast Louisiana. These are the giants, literally and figuratively, of the service industry. These local celebrities in their own right are known regionwide to their customers and friends by their surnames, like Cher, Madonna and Drake, and have built just as loyal a following as bonafide rockstars in their field.
article by Meredith McKinnie | photography by Martin G Meyers
In the words of Henry Manning, service is essential. With 46 years experience as a server in Monroe, Louisiana, he knows how to serve. Beginning in the home of Tommy Godfrey decades ago, Henry learned the art of service from Tommy’s parents and became fascinated with the elegance of the process. Serve from the left; pick up from the right. Place bread to the right of the lady and wine down to the right of the gentleman. His acute attention to detail and humble, easy manner make him the quintessential waiter for anyone dining at Restaurant Sage in Monroe.
Henry began back in 1969 at Mohawk where he served for 18 years. He gives all the credit to Richard Norman, his mentor at Mohawk, who changed his life. Henry is grateful to serve, where he treats everyone, regardless of color or station with respect. He considers himself a “professional server,” in an industry of temporaries. His code of conduct: “Good service can make up for bad food, but nothing makes up for bad service,” keeps him focused on the weight of his role in both the restaurant’s success and the overall satisfaction of his patrons, or as Henry calls them, “clients.”
Henry prides himself on the many facets of his business, knowing his menu, extensive wine knowledge, the setting of the table, and the unspoken rule of keeping conversation to a minimum. He is a server by choice, and inevitably brings an old school class and sophistication, an art all of us appreciate when blessed with the opportunity to dine with Henry.
With a warm smile and unhurried manner, Ms. Pinky’s welcoming presence at Taco Bandido has been a staple for Monroe locals for the last 32 years. Her willingness to please and make others smile is infectious. Her duties include “anything they let me be,” but she is primarily found behind the counter where she can “meet people and make them feel special.” She always treats everyone with respect, a rule her mother, Gracie Cowden, instilled in her long ago, to treat everyone as you would wish to be treated. Ms. Pinky’s job gives her a feeling of accomplishment, like she has done something good for someone else, and at the end of day, we all want that. It’s what it’s all about.
She says, “Lots of people come in having a bad day, and I try to meet and exceed their expectations, asking questions to make sure their orders are just right.” People appreciate the extra care and attention that are unfortunately no longer as commonplace as they used to be. She cares, and it shows on her face and in her attitude. Married for the last 39 years, Ms. Pinky enjoys reading and antique shopping in her free time, but it’s behind the counter where she really feels like she shines.
Esther T. Griffin
For the last thirty years, nestled behind the cash register atop a clear case of baked goods, one can find Ms. Esther during the week at Thurman’s Food Factory. Though she describes herself as an “ordinary Plain Jane,” she is the recognized face when regulars frequent Thurman’s doors. Ms. Esther enjoys interacting with people, seeing some of the same faces every day, and acknowledges the pleasant atmosphere that comes along with having positive, friendly employees around her. And her bosses, father/son team, Thurman Dickey and Ken Dickey, make for a family-like setting. A widow for the last 35 years, her co-workers at Thurman’s are part of her family.
Carrying on a conversation, getting to know her customers while still maintaining efficiency is paramount to Esther’s success. She says she loves waiting on people, making them smile and knowing she has pleased them. In her words, Esther has a “loose jaw and I jaw with them…makes them feel comfortable.” She acknowledges her son, Rodney Griffin as the “light of my life,” and spends her evenings and weekends reading, working in the yard and tending to her flowers. Even at home, she caters to her flowers as she caters to us, watching them bloom and making us smile.
Bubba Marshall and Lee Carter
For the last thirty years, William Kirk Marshall, or as Mohawk patrons know him, Bubba, has been serving customers the restaurant’s savory, coveted dishes. Alongside Bubba for the last 21 years, Lee Carter also has made Mohawk his career home, where both gentlemen feel blessed to serve. Rapport is essential for the backbone of this wait-staff, recognizing faces, seeing kids return after they’ve grown who still remember their names. The men pride themselves on being part of the overall experience of Mohawk that brings people back generation after generation.
The family atmosphere often found in successful establishments exists in Mohawk, no doubt fostered by Bubba and Lee. When you treat people like family, they become family. Five years into Lee’s employment, Mr. John Green told him, “You might as well stay here.” Joan Norman mentored Bubba, and he recalls her fondly “like a mother to me.” Over the years, they’ve mastered their people skills, offering a shoulder, providing comfort, whatever their patrons need. Family helps family, and that’s how Bubba and Lee embrace every person dining at their tables.
Both have built lifelong relationships with patrons, often greeting them with a hug, a smile or a handshake. Bubba feels blessed to be able to interact daily with people he wouldn’t necessarily meet and claims he “wouldn’t give up his job for the world.” Lee likes the feeling of accomplishment and control, being able to manage a room well. They both take pride in their positions. Angela and Marie, also Mohawk employees for the last 30 years, put a lot of love in their cooking back in the kitchen, Lee and Bubba put a lot of love into their service, and the combination keeps people coming back. In the words of Bubba, “Keep love in what you do, and you’ll be successful.”