SAN GABRIEL — On Friday, Betty Malchow, 61, will pour her last cup of coffee, serve her last bowl of oatmeal and share her last story with customers at Goody's restaurant. After 27 years working behind the counter, Malchow is retiring.
"When I first started here, I never thought I would be here long enough to retire," Malchow said. "I just wanted a job so that I could help support my family."
But Malchow is glad she got more than she bargained for. "Instead of just picking up a paycheck, I've made friends with the most wonderful people," she said. "They are more than just customers, they are like family."
Malchow's relationship with her customers does not end after their meals are finished. She goes bowling, dancing and to baseball games with them, and attends to the weddings and baby showers of their children and grandchildren.
"I share the good times and the bad times with my customers," she said. "I've seen their marriages break up, their mates die and their children leave home."
Malchow, who moved to El Monte from South Bend, Ind., in 1943, was hired as a counter girl when Goody's opened in 1957 at Las Tunas Drive and San Gabriel Boulevard in San Gabriel. She is the last of the original employees.
The original owners, Karl Krueger and Paul Utter, sold the restaurant to Jack Maroney 20 years ago. The restaurant is managed by Mike Maroney, Jack's son.
Mike Maroney, 28, remembers watching Malchow when he was a child.
"I used to come down for breakfast on Saturday mornings when I could barely get up into the counter seat," Maroney said. "Betty was always there with a smile."
"She is like a fixture here. For 27 years her smiling face has always been the first face you see when you walk through the door."
Malchow said there have been few customer complaints about her work over the years. She said she believes in the philosophy that "the customer is always right." But she added that she is quitting because dealing with the public can take its toll.
"Maybe I've been at this too long," she said, "but the grin-and-bear-it attitude is wearing thin."
And yet she said she will miss the early morning talks with customers, the pranks they pull and the kidding. Malchow always has worked the 6 a.m.-to-2 p.m. shift, Tuesday through Saturday.
"Oh we love to pull pranks on her," said Dutch Herlman, 51, of Valinda. "Betty hates to prepare oatmeal because it's kind of a hassle and so a couple of months ago I had about 15 people come in and sit at the counter and order oatmeal."
Malchow learned it was a joke only after Herlman told her. "You can bet she was pretty relieved," said Herlman, a maintenance worker for the city of San Gabriel who has eaten at the restaurant for 15 years.
Withhold Tips as Joke
Two weeks ago, Herlman said, he asked the regular counter patrons to withhold tips.
"We thought if we didn't tip her she wouldn't be able to afford to retire and she'd have to stay on," Herlman said. "We just don't want her to go."
Herlman said Malchow is like a bartender: "She listens to your troubles and helps you with your problems."
To Virginia Baker of Arcadia, eating at Goody's is like "going to the country club. You can sit at the counter and eat your breakfast and talk about anything with Betty."
In fact, because so many customers like to have "breakfast with Betty," Herlman said, "if you don't time your arrival just right you have to stand and wait for a counter seat."
Tom Baker, Virginia Baker's husband, said he goes to Goody's every morning for breakfast. He said he loves to talk with the waitress about the Los Angeles Dodgers and the horse races at Santa Anita.
On Duty During Quake
Malchow said she was at the restaurant the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She said she was also working the day in 1971 when an earthquake, which measured 6.4 on the Richter scale, hit the Los Angeles area.
"I was trying to carry two cups of coffee (when the earthquake hit) and plates were rolling around," she said. "I didn't spill the coffee, but the poor cook was so frazzled he made scrambled eggs all day no matter how the customers ordered them."
Malchow also was at the restaurant when her first grandchild was born. "My whole life has been tied to this restaurant," she said.
After Friday, she said, she will spend more time with her family, which includes three daughters and eight grandchildren.
"I won't be sitting around watching soap operas," she said. She plans to spend lots of time at Dodger Stadium and the race track, and probably take a trip to Las Vegas.
Malchow's only disappointment is that her husband will not be able to share her retirement years with her. He suffered from muscular dystrophy and died in 1982.
"I'm going to miss everyone here, but it's time for me to move on," she said. "I want to go now while I'm still pretty healthy."