Let’s just start out by saying that I am a legit child of the 80’s. Going to eat lunch or dinner at Ponderosa was BIG DEAL when I was six. I mean, that was before my city got a Sizzler, but we won’t go there.
Ponderosa was such a big deal in Owensboro, KY, that we had two of them. They were approximately five stoplights away from each other and are both closed now.
I remember going there as a child and staring at the salad bar in awe. It was enormous. Salad and chicken wings and rolls and mashed potatoes and did I mention the soft serve ice cream machine??
Needless to say, I told my parents that when I grew up, I wanted to be a waitress at Ponderosa because they made tips. I am proud to tell my parents now that I achieved my first goal in life. #Winning
The day I turned sixteen, my mom sent me out to get my first job. My older sister was already working at Ponderosa so I had a leg up on the competition that was breaking down the door.
I remember my first day like it was yesterday. I walked in and the smell just hit me in the face. I don’t know what it was, maybe a mixture of A1 sauce, ketchup and a slight bit of mildew, but I will never forget that smell.
I was handed my black apron and introduced to the other 16-18 year old servers. Our job was to refill drinks, take away dirty plates, and bring out a steak if the customer ordered one.
Now let’s talk about the steaks there. The only one I really remember was the Chop Steak. It was more like a hamburger patty than a steak but we won’t argue about that.
There was also the choice of sirloin tips with sautéed onions and peppers. With your steak or steak-like food, you also got a baked potato. We served our baked potatoes still wrapped in the tinfoil and added a scoop of butter and/or sour cream if requested. We then garnished it with a piece of kale. #Fancy
Then there was the salad bar. Oh the salad bar. I refuse to eat at a buffet to this day because I saw a lot of things that I never want to see again. The sneeze guards were definitely too high. And kids loved to lick the tongs.
Every item in the salad bar was surrounded by miles of kale. Not the kale that people actually eat now, but the plastic kind that floated in the water when the ice on the salad bar melted.
The mashed potatoes started out as potato flakes. All of the vegetables were straight from a can. The chicken wings were actually pretty amazing. The rolls and chocolate chip cookies were also favorites of my fellow waitresses because we could slide them in the pockets of our aprons and eat them behind a wall when we got hungry.
This was also the age of still having smoking sections in restaurants. The smoking section at this Ponderosa in particular was divided from non-smoking by the four foot barrier of the salad bar. Nothing like smoke wafting over your canned green beans while you are trying to eat a moderately priced meal with free refills of Pepsi products.
The Ponderosa I worked at is now a Panera Bread and I can’t walk in the place without thinking about the fact we were constantly out of sweet tea and having to roll a mountain of silverware at the end of a shift.
Oddly enough, I made a TON of money working as a server there. When you turn over tables in thirty minutes and each server has twenty tables, those $2 tips add up.
I would also like to take the chance here to thank the couple that gave me a $100 tip back in 2001. For some reason, one of my tables yelled at me because of something completely out of my control. The couple at the table next to them must have heard it and left me a $100 tip. And it wasn’t a mistake, it was five $20 bills. That was the first thing my mom asked me when I got home – if they meant to give me a $1 tip and accidentally gave me a $100 tip.
That tip made my day and seventeen years later I have not forgotten it. If you are reading this, thank you.
Lastly, everyone better be nice to their servers. It is a very hard job. The majority of the time, they have no control over how fast the kitchen cooks your food. They run their booties off for what used to be $2.13 an hour. I don’t know what it is now, but i’m sure it’s not much. From Ponderosa, I moved up the ranks until I finished my serving career as a bartender at TGI Friday’s in Bowling Green, KY as a senior in college.
And no, I did not have to wear flair.
I would actually like to thank Ponderosa. It taught me a lot about life and how to manage high school, sports and a job. You CAN make it happen and still make good grades. It taught me to never eat at a salad bar. It taught me that restaurants pour half full bottles of their condiments into other half full bottles of condiments. And lastly, it taught me that A1 is simply a mixture of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.
Until Next Time,