Coach House legend goes through bittersweet change as she hangs up apron after 48 years

judie

Judie Jenkins at The Coach House, where she took care of customers who became friends for 48 years Photo by Brittany Boll

QUINCY — The Coach House restaurant had quite the crowd the last week of December 2023, and it wasn’t just for the dollar size pancakes and homemade pies.

Members of the community poured in to get one last meal served by one of Quincy’s finest. Judie Jenkins decided it was time to hang up her apron at the age of 81. After waiting tables at the Coach House for almost 48 years, she served her last shift on Dec. 28. 

Doesn’t it seem like every community has a Flo or a Vi? For Quincy, we had our Judie Jenkins. Without using our company dollars to survey, Judie may have waited on 90 percent of the community at some point in her massive stretch of a serving career.

Flo from the 1970’s sitcome “Alice” and Vi from the movie “Grease”. Sassy, but beloved, waitresses.

The customers who became her regulars all know her as their friend. Judie is known to many throughout the community for her large family, of which she is the respected matriarch.  Some call her “Mom.” Others call her “Mimi” or “Gram.” Some people have no relation to Judie whatsoever and still know her as “Gram,” because that’s the aura she puts off.

Judie makes you feel safe and welcome, the way loving grandmas do. Whether you were in there to get your breakfast fix or cry about dropping out of beauty school, you could always rely on Judie to be there.

Retirement is like a red carpet event, and Judie is walking it with grace. If you don’t know who she is, picture Queen Elizabeth II vibes mixed with a dash of Marilyn Monroe spice.

Monroe met Queen Elizabeth II at on Oct. 29, 1956, when she was invited to attend the Royal Command Performance at the Empire Theatre in London’s Leicester Square.

The woman has style. Her hair and nails are always done, and her outfit is always on point. When Judie walks into the room, everyone wants to say hello to her. I experienced her fame when we met at O’Shea’s, another one of her favorite breakfast establishments, for our interview.

(They all know her by name there, too. Many of the customers stood up to greet her as she walked by to chat about her retirement announcement.)

Judie stopped and greeted every one of them graciously. “Is it true?’ is the most common question she hears from the public about her news. To know her is to know she likes to keep busy. She also loves to have a good time. When asked what she’s going to do now, she smiles and says, “Sometimes it’s nice to not do anything.” 

As we sat at one of her usual tables, she introduced me to our server — Pam — by name. Pam asked if she wanted her usual and later brought her a coffee and a Pepsi (No wonder she is so active). I ordered a coffee too and was ready to hear everything she had to say about retirement, her impressive career in the food industry and … change.

Her red-tipped nails grabbed her coffee mug as she took a small sip and asked, “Where do we start?”

Judie’s attention to detail goes far beyond her appearance. It’s what makes her service the best. Before her last shift, she left a handwritten list detailing her regulars’ order modifications and special requests, down to the kind of jelly or syrup they take with their breakfast as well as where they like to sit.

“I left a list this long of what groups come in on what days, and I guess if they (the Coach House servers) don’t do what I said on there, then that’s on them,” Judie said. 

A lot has changed in food service since Judie started serving tables in 1976. Some changes have been for the better. Some not so much. The shutdown in 2020 changed the service industry forever, and not just for the Coach House.

The change is everywhere. Attitude is everything. It can be difficult to have a positive one in this industry when careers like food service can be deemed non-essential and cease to exist with an executive order. Food service isn’t for everyone, yet the demand for warm bodies in the workforce is making it so that restaurants and bars will take anyone.

Unfortunately, the days when food service employees needed a skillset are long gone. Where is that hot sauce you asked for with your meal?  It’s possible your waitress forgot about it somewhere between a TikTok dance and a cigarette break, and she isn’t worried about getting fired because of that demand for employees. That is one change the consumer will most likely have to eat. FOR-EV-ER.

Chief Squidman Palledorous from the movie “The Sandlot”

That’s not to say we don’t still have some gems in the industry. They’re just rare.

Judie is old school. Her work ethic is what makes her great, though she claims she is not perfect. Her shifts started at 5:30 a.m., but Judie would show up at 4 a.m. to make sure her section was clean and ready to go. She would take extra care in making sure things outside her section were wiped down and clean.

Before the 2020 shutdown for the pandemic, Judie sometimes worked 14 days in a row. She was the server who would pick up shifts and never said no to anyone. After the Coach House reopened, she cut down to three days a week. Her Tuesday shift no longer existed with the owners’ decision to regularly close on that day. 

The menu and photos from The Coach House.

Judie’s first job was at Deters Dairy, serving ice cream behind the counter after graduating high school when she was just 17 years old. She served smiles and ice cream until she moved on to her first actual serving job at the former Stipp’s Lounge at 1130 S. Sixth. She later spent time working with her mom in Florida on some rentals, but she eventually found her way back to Quincy — the place she calls home.

Asked for the reason why she came back, she said “family” with certainty.

“I just think places like Florida and Vegas are fun to visit, but it’s places like this where your family is where you want to be,” she said.

Then she talked about the time she ziplined down the Las Vegas strip with her granddaughter, Kaitlyn Shannon. I said she likes to have a good time, but the fact is this woman likes to party.

Judie was running around with girlfriends in late January 1976 when she landed her job at the Coach House. Her shifts were sometimes from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., and she often didn’t get out of there until 4 in the morning after doing side work. Her shifts really went full circle — from leaving the place at 4 a.m. to later showing up at 4 a.m. to start her shift.

She said 24-hour service was a common rumor. The restaurant would close at 3 and open again at 6. She remembers getting off work late at night and going out with her coworkers – the quintessential server life. 

Judie Jenkins serving Pat and Ned Webber sometime in the 1980s – submitted by Tiffany Minor

“When we would get off work at 3 a.m., we used to run down to The Small Fry – a little trailer on Maine Street with six stools and grab a burger and fries,” Judie said. “We would race in there to get a stool, and there was always a couple of us who would have to stand.”

She laughed and seemed to like reminiscing on the good times of these six-stool establishments and other hideaway bars (I was still in shock that she had ziplined not so long ago).

The Small Fry on Maine Street from the If You Grew Up in Quincy Facebook page

The sailing wasn’t always smooth for Judie. She had an accident at work in September 2022. A girl ran around the wrong corner and into Judie, knocking her to the ground on top of the shattered coffee pot she was carrying. She suffered four broken ribs, bruising and burns. The bump on her head was a Wonka-sized goose egg.

Then she talked about how she hadn’t had eyebrows for years, but five weeks after her face healed after her accident, her eyebrows grew back.

She giggled as she told the story.

It’s all about attitude. 

Coffee, Pepsi, and a hard work ethic aren’t all that drives Judie. The biggest motivator is her family. She said it repeatedly, and she shows it in her care for her great-grandchildren, grandchildren and adult children.

Like her food service career, her family life also has seen ups, downs and changes. The family dynamic changed quite a bit after the deaths of two of her grandsons, Max and Spencer Wombles, so close to one another. The heartache her son, Todd, holds is unbearable, but Judie is there, holding it with him. 

She has always been super close with her family, serving as the matriarch. Halloweens were celebrated at her house off South 19th Street. Gram’s house was the hangout for all the grandkids and the neighborhood kids, and it was always impeccable.

After 27 years, Judie made another big change and moved out of her house. She said the landlord was there and almost in tears. It was his first rental, and losing Judie as a tenant wasn’t easy (Change is hard, even for the landlord).

Kaitlyn Shannon (the one who took Judie ziplining) and her husband, Josh, offered for Judie to move in with their family.

“It’s not very often that you see 30-year-olds making an offer like this to their grandma,” Judie said.

She’s right, but the dynamic between her and Kaitlyn is a little different kind of dynamic that a granddaughter and grandma typically share. Kaitlyn calls her Mimi for a reason. Change is never easy, but it’s nice to do it with people we love.

Judie and just some of her family – Submitted photo

When asked why now for all these changes, she said, “It was such a bittersweet thing for me. I knew that my body was ready at this point. I have no plans at the moment. I might look for something a little bit later. I’m not going to do anything stressful.”

This was her way of telling us all that we will probably catch her doing something sooner than later.

A change in family dynamic, recovery from a fall, a move of 27 years, and closing the Coach House chapter, I think entitles her to a little rest and relaxation. I also think that after 47 years of serving, she should finally say to everyone, “Kiss my grits.”

You probably won’t hear it from her though, because if you’ve learned anything about Judie, then you know it’s all about style, grace and attitude. Some things never change.

Brittany Boll is a content creator for Muddy River News. The photo of Judie and Brittany was taken by Marikkia Velez.

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