Welcome to Lifers, a feature in which Eater interviews the men and women who have worked in the restaurant and bar industry for the better part of their lives, sharing their stories and more.
[Photos: Claire Stanford/EAMPLS]
Located in a downtown dining car, St. Paul landmark Mickey's Diner has been open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for nearly 70 years. And for more than forty of those years, Mary Kiritschenko has been behind the counter, taking orders and dishing up O'Brian potatoes and egg breakfasts. Out of all the servers and cooks who make lifetime careers at Mickey's, Kiritschenko has been at the diner the longest, watching the Mickey's empire go from multiple locations around St. Paul to the one downtown spot (another Mickey's Diner, in the Highland neighborhood, has different management).
Kiritschenko took a few minutes to talk to us at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, amidst taking orders, bussing plates, refilling coffee, talking baseball, and giving one fresh-faced, bow-tie wearing customer a good-natured ribbing about his apparel. We talked about how Mickey's has changed over the years, the best parts of the job (and the menu), the dangers of getting too attached to regulars, and a little movie that goes quack.
How did you start working at Mickey's? I really don't remember. My mom sort worked at Mickey's, and I was real young, and they needed somebody. So I was helping out part-time, and I was doing dishes up at the other Mickey's—we had seven or eight of them when I started, I forget how many—and eventually, I just worked my way in down here.
How old were you when you started? You know, I really don't remember. I was young. It was probably '70 or '71. I was already out of high school. I always tell everyone I started here before Christ.
When you first started, what was the menu like, and has it changed at all? It's pretty much the same.
How is this Mickey's different than all the other Mickey's that used to exist? This one is more of a national landmark, more of a touristy place.
Is it mostly tourists who come here? We have a lot of regulars – we have a few right here. But we have a lot of tourists.
What is your typical day like here? Oh, it's okay. Just move along. Go on through, say good morning to everybody. Just move along, you know. Hoping that everyone is happy.
What's your usual shift? 7 – 3. I used to work here nights, years ago.
What was it like to work here at night? Oh, very colorful, very fun. The greatest people-watching place in the world.
What kind of people show up here at night? Everybody. Every walk of life. All the way from the top to the bottom.
What is your favorite thing on the menu? O'Brian potatoes. Baked beans. The Mulligan stew is very good. Everything's good here.
What's your favorite thing about working here? I think it's that I get to do so much working here. I got to meet so many people, and got so many things, and the owners are good to work for – they've been good to me. But I think it's because people come in here, and I got meet a lot of people and I got to do a lot of things. You meet people.
Do you have any favorite regulars here? No, not really. I hate all of them. [Laughs] I'm kidding. We have a few. But most of my really good regulars are all passed away now. It's really sad. I don't like getting close to regulars because they're here today and gone tomorrow. Then, you have to start all over again. I just don't get close to the regulars anymore. But we have a lot of them. Like I said, from lawyers to down out here on the street.
What's the most difficult thing about working here? Well, when nobody shows up. [Laughs] It's really not that difficult. You know, work is work. You know, it's not really that difficult – it's fun. It's hard work, but it's good work. Maybe if you have an unruly patron or something, but that hardly ever happens – not in my shift.
Do you have any interesting stories from working here? Well, I'm actually pretty well-known. I get cards from all over the place, and I got a call from some guy that was in Ireland in one day, and they said they were in a pub. And I had just waited on these people who lived in Ireland, and I had given them a menu when they were in here. So then this guy calls me and says, you're never going to believe this, but we're in a pub in Ireland and we met these people, and they have a Mickey's menu and they're talking about you.
So were you here when the Mighty Ducks was filming here? What was that like? They closed the place. And there was Emilio Estevez hanging around with the folks. You meet a lot of people, and I always say, they're the same as me, they've just got a little more money than me!
How do you spend your time off? I go fishing. I watch my grandkids. I have a lot of things I do.
How much longer do you plan to work here? I'll tell you. Probably until I can't walk anymore. This is where I'm going to stay, and this is where I'm going to die.
· All Greasy Spoons Week 2013 Coverage [Eater MPLS]