It's a given that in the early morning hours at the Miss Monticello Diner in the village known as "the Crossroads of the Catskills," you'll be served by a waitress named Connie (Breen) McKenley who is dishing out egg specials, grilled muffins and hot buns, pancakes and French toast.
Everyone in town knows Connie, who has been serving breakfast for decades. She has her regulars, her diner groupies, those who have sat in her section of the diner for years. In fact, in June, Connie will celebrate her 38th year working at the diner.
In this day and age, it's very hard to find a dedicated employee who has worked for one company that long. What really makes Connie unique? She is a professional waitress, through and through.
"I'm from the old school in terms working and waitressing," says Connie. "The minute I hit my area, I stay there for the shift and am very attentive to my customers. If someone's fork drops, it gets picked up right away; if they are eating a messy dish, they have extra napkins without asking."
According to Connie, waiting tables is more than just serving food, it also means being a bit of a therapist.
"What makes waitressing hard is that you are dealing with a lot of personalities that all eat differently. People want their food the way they want their food and sometimes you just have to stand there and listen to people, to their stories, to their complaints and just be their friend."
Connie was born in Georgia and spent a brief portion of her childhood in Germany while her father served in the Army. Otherwise she has been a resident of Monticello for most of her life. She started working for the original owner Carl Salomon as a bookkeeper two years after graduating Monticello High School. She did that job for 16 years, eventually managing the diner. After ownership changed in 1991, the present owners Jimmy and Dimitra Nikolados asked her to stay on as a waitress.
"They treat me like one of their family," says Connie. "When my husband died, Dimitra was very good to me, bringing me platters of food. She's got a big heart. They are wonderful people to work for."
In the tough times that have defined the Catskills, many small businesses have come and gone, but there are always one or two that survive, even thrive, and characterize the history and resiliency of the place and its people. In Monticello, once the epicenter during the thriving Borscht Belt era, the Miss Monticello Diner has always been the anchor on Broadway, the main street. It's one of those hometown businesses that still exist in a world of big box stores and chain restaurants.
The Miss Monticello Diner makes fresh hamburgers, the fish come from the Fulton Fish Market and their soups, salads and desserts are homemade. There is a baker on the premises who bakes all the pies, breads and the amazing baklava.
The Miss Monticello Diner is a Catskills institution and it tenaciously continues, proudly surviving in a tough economy. Generations have driven south on Route 42, made a right turn by the Village Hall and found the same familiar diner.
Published in The Summer Edition of Green Door Magazine-A Journal of Responsible Living In The Catskills and Hudson Valley.
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Monticello, NY 12701
Steven Kurlander is an Attorney and Communications Strategist. He blogs at Kurly's Kommentary and writes for Green Door Magazine and The Florida Squeeze.