Above the clanging silverware and soft rock playing over the speakers, Fern Barba’s voice can clearly be heard greeting diners with a bright, “Hey girls!” during her waitressing shift Wednesday.
Barba, 66, has worked at the Paso Robles Denny’s for 40 years this month, and she has no plans to stop soon.
“It’s just been a real pleasure,” she said. “I don’t think anybody treats anybody as good as I’ve been treated here.”
When she first began work at Denny’s in 1973, Barba’s last name was Smith (her maiden name), the waitress’ uniform consisted of a long brown skirt and white top, the restaurant was decorated in shades of pink and orange, and she had no clue that 40 years later, she would still be in the same spot.
In fact, she quit after only 10 months.
But then she came back after less than a year.
Flash forward 39 years, and Barba is married to Paso Robles native Raymond Barba, her uniform is a simple black polo and slacks, the restaurant is decorated in more neutral tones, and not even two bouts of breast cancer have kept her from work for long.
“There is just no one with her kind of dedication,” manager June Velazquez said. “She starts her shift at 6 a.m.; she’s here by 5:30 a.m. If it’s time for her to go and people walk in, she jumps right in. No one has that kind of dedication anymore.”
Last weekend, representatives from the Denny’s corporate office visited, ceremoniously presenting Barba with a plaque honoring her dedicated service.
Jose Robles, who has worked alongside Barba as a cook at Denny’s for 33 years, describes her as his “sweet love.” The two are longtime friends and plan to write a book together on their combined 73 years working at Denny’s.
“She’s a very good server — the very best,” Robles said. “We have a lot of memories here.”
In her time at Denny’s, Barba has seen everything from dine-and-dashers and drunken brawls to an expectant couple stopping by for breakfast before going to the hospital to give birth, she said.
And throughout it all, she has never once regretted her decision to walk in and apply for a job more than 40 years ago.
“The way I look at life, it’s what you make of your day,” Barba said. “You can wake up happy, or you can wake up miserable. And I choose to be happy.”
Barba said she hopes to get to 45 years of work before retiring.
“If I can make five more years, then that’s an accomplishment,” she said. “If I only make a couple, then that’s what’s meant to be.”