Moffat County Locals: Village Inn waitress Eileen Kunkle hangs up apron, retires after 40 years of serving community
CRAIG — One of Moffat County’s best waitresses has hung up her apron and turned in her serving tray, retiring after 40 years of service at the same Craig restaurant.
“My husband’s cousin was one of the original waitresses and told me about the job,” explained newly retired Village Inn waitress Eileen Kunkle. “They had high turnover, a little like they do now, so she said to me, ‘Now just don’t quit on me in three weeks.’ Forty years later, I didn’t quit on her. I’m still here.”
On Dec. 4, Kunkle officially retired and now plans to spend her time enjoying the coffee and pies at Village Inn rather than serving them.
Kunkle said she’s not leaving Craig and will be in and out of the place. Her list of things to do in retirement is likely to include spending time with her three sons and their wives, her eight grandchildren, and her two great-granddaughters.
As to what else might be on the horizon, she said she’d have to talk with her best friend, Keta — a female black lab and blue heeler mix — to “figure out” how they’ll spend their time.
She said she will miss her regular customers, people like Dave DeRose, whom she said, “has been here since I can remember. He said I served his son more meals than a mother would have.”
And then, there’s the Monday ladies group and a local family that visits most Tuesdays — all her regular local customers.
“There are little kids that went to school here, and now, they are grown and have their own children. To me, it’s one big continual family,” Kunkle said.
Village Inn manager Jauneth Madsen was 15 when she started work on the bus staff at the restaurant. Kunkle helped Madsen learn the business and mentored her.
“It’s bittersweet,” Madsen said. “I’m excited for her to take this step for herself, but I will miss having her as part of the team.”
Waitress Mariaha Sadvar-Gerber shared the sentiment.
“She’s one of my favorites. I’ve worked with her four years, since I started,” Sadvar-Gerber said. “I’m really happy for her, but she’ll be missed. Forty years is a long time to put into a place. … I hope she comes and sees us.”
Kunkle was voted Moffat County’s Best Waitress in 2011, but after 40 years of working on her feet, Kunkle’s hips give her some trouble, though she said her back and shoulders are still good, and her wit is as quick as ever.
“Excuse me, I’ve got to go and check on this one customer,” she said during a recent interview.
Even on her last day of work, the customers took priority.
Those customers see only a small part of the job, Kunkle said.
She added that, each shift, each server is responsible for doing the side work — such as clearing tables, cutting fruit, refilling condiments, and cleaning counters and floors — to prepare for the next shift.
Clearing tables was her least favorite task.
“Maybe that’s why my table at home is cluttered,” Kunkle said with a laugh. “You have your same crap at different jobs, but there was nothing that bothered me enough to make me quit.”
She also spoke of some of the changes she’s seen through the years. Her hourly pay went from 75 cents to a little more than $7, plus tips.
“Tipping is higher now, but that cost-of-living is higher; everything costs more. When I started here, we had elderly schoolteachers who would come in for a cup of coffee and leave 10 cents. But for them, it was like leaving $1 for a cup these days,” she said.
By Kunkle’s reckoning, Craig has about half the population now as when she started. She said she misses some of the little old stores that used to fill the town, but she doesn’t miss the A-line dresses, skirts, and bow-ties that used to be part of waitress uniforms.
“We started in skirts and froze our butts off in the wintertime, and now, we are in slacks. … It’s a little bit more comfortable. At least you don’t have to worry about someone looking up your skirts,” Kunkle said.
Another change was the introduction of computers.
“You had to write shorthand when we started. Now, it’s your own shorthand, because we type the orders into the computer for the cooks,” Kunkle said, adding, “I gotta go see if my burger is up.”
And then, she was off again, to deliver a hot hamburger to a hungry customer.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.