Marilyn Lloyd estimates she’s poured over 1 million cups of coffee during her 36 years of waitressing at Denny’s in Parma. That may sound like a generous estimate, but her math is probably pretty accurate.
“A lot, a lot of coffee, probably close to 200 cups a day. That’s a lot of coffee,” Lloyd says with a laugh.
Denny’s on Day Dr. opened its doors in 1979 and Lloyd has been serving there ever since. In a restaurant that's been around for more than three decades, and in an industry that is dominated by younger servers, Lloyd has been a constant. In those 36 years of service, the 60-year-old has missed just three days of work – each one to attend a funeral. She has never taken a sick day, even when she had her wisdom teeth pulled.
That helps explain the cult following she's built amongst regulars. Her short black hair bobs up and down as she glides from table to table refilling white coffee mugs, addressing her regular customers by name:
“Hey Tony, everything OK?”
“Need some more coffee, Mary?”
“The same for you today, Vince?”
But her connection to her guests stretches far beyond the fact that she remembers their names and orders. She knows where their children went to college, that their mother was sick and that their cousin had just gotten married. This is her home. And Marilyn's the kind of devoted, thoughtful server that just makes you smile.
“The most important thing in any restaurant is the guests, and I try to make them feel at home — at my home — and they do,” Lloyd says.
Lloyd works first shift 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, including holidays. She arrives at work at 4 a.m. after driving 22 miles from her home in Medina. She wants to make sure her section is “perfect,” everything has to be wiped down, the floors need to be vacuumed and the table settings placed in the same way.
Mary Fox and Betty Jerome have been coming to eat together in Lloyd’s section almost every Thursday for over 20 years.
“She is like an angel dropped on earth,” Jerome says. “I used to bring my dad in here, before he passed away, she knew exactly what he would want — extra jelly — she would pile it up on the table. She just has a very kind heart and a wonderful way with people.”
Fox and Jerome both said they don’t come in for the food: they come for Marilyn Lloyd.
She is part of their family. Lloyd makes visits to customers' nursing homes and attends the funerals of their loved ones. She bakes over 1,000 cookies near Christmas time to give to her guests. She worries about her guests like a mother, demanding regulars call her if they don’t plan to come in on their normal days.
“They are my family, not my personal family, they are my work family and I love them. I do,” Lloyd says.
Of course, her personal family also has deep ties to Denny's too — it's where she met her husband.
“He wasn’t a guest, I told myself I would never date a guest,” Lloyd says. “His sister started when I started here, and she said, ‘I have a really nice brother and you should meet him.’ So I met him here, he came in and he asked me out. He’s the best person in the world, he’s my best friend.”
Retirement? Not in her vocabulary yet, despite hints from her husband that it might be time.
“I think that when people retire they lose their sense of purpose. I know a lot of my customers when they retire they get sick, and they aren’t doing so well anymore,” Lloyd says. “No. I want to stay working as long as I can. I do, I do. “