Amarillo, TX

The Waffle House in Amarillo had two cooks and three waitresses (“sales people,” as they are called there), and all but one of them seemed a bit sleepy — it was early. One energetic waitress, however, seemed to be enjoying herself, chatting it up with customers and dancing around as she grabbed the coffee pot and warmed people’s cups. I ordered only a coffee and she was not having it. Within minutes, a waffle was in front of me.

When I’d finished, I explained the project I was working on and she immediately agreed to be interviewed. Kimmie Ribble was adept at managing everything that was going on there — while still granting me some time to ask delving questions, which she answered with a kind of direct honesty that seemed born of the region. And she never stopped dancing the whole time, which gained in significance as the questions revealed a secret past.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Josh Rose: How old are you and what was your path here?

Kimmie Ribble: I’m 37. I was born in Burbank, CA, but I was raised here since I was 2.

My husband came from Hartford — he’s Mexican, we’ve been married for 18 years. We have two daughters; they’re really a handful, they’re teenagers, but you gotta love them. They’re in middle school at Highland Park.

I’ve got two other boys from previous boyfriends, but he’s the only one I married, so I don’t think about marrying again.

When did you leave school and what were your first jobs?

9th grade. Wendy’s — it’s fast food. You get everybody’s food and cook it.

Then what?

A dancer at The Boom Boom, but it turned into Babes. It’s no longer there. We only have one strip club now, and it’s Cassidy’s.

It was 2000. I did it for 5 years before I met my husband. I just danced, I didn’t do nothing dumb. I just came home to my kids. The money I was making I‘d give to my mom to pay the bills.

It was taking a toll on my family because my boys knew I was out all night then coming home at 2, 3 o’clock in the morning then sleeping all day, then getting up and going to work again. I would never spend time with my kids. They needed their momma more cuz they were growing up.

So I spend more time with them now.

What was your next job after The Boom Boom and how did you get it?

I came to the Waffle House. That was 2007. I saw that they were hiring on the billboard, so I came in and talked to Blain. Blain and Danny are the ones that own this, and he was like, “Alright you’re hired!”

They’re very friendly. They’ll give you the shirt off their back. If you have a problem they’ll help you. It’s all about family, if it ain’t about family, then why would I be here?

I’m a waitress, but here it’s called salesperson. We’re not just here to get your order and that’s it — we’re here to help you, and make sure you guys are happy… I talked you into a waffle!

What other things do you have to do as part of this job?

We also do our dishes, we sweep, we mop, we do chores. We all have a little section we gotta do, but if someone can’t do it, we’ll help them. There’s team work here.

We have all good servers, we’re all friendly. We’re all about our customers — no matter how hard it is, we’re treating you how we want to be treated. We get some mean customers in here who don’t realize, and there are times when we get stiffed — four, or five times a day. We’re going home without those tips, so we’ll be lucky if we can make $80, or a bill ($100). And that goes home to pay our bills.

People don’t realize that. They think we’re making $15 an hour, like California. I’m like, uh, no, this is Texas.

Kimmie, the salesperson, insisted I try a waffle.

Where does it go from there?

They can put me as a cook.. That’s the next step. The highest you can make is $12 an hour. I mean, I cook here and there. I give them a break. They’re up there 3, 4, 5 hours. I can do omelets, I can do anything.

Do you see yourself retiring here?

In a way, yeah. Sometimes I get frustrated because customers make your day, you know… So sometimes I think I’ll find another job, but I always end up back here. So it looks like I’m gonna stay here.

Do you have regulars?

We have two of them here right now that are regulars. We had three, but he already left. That one (pointing to one of her regular customers), he’s Jack.

I mean I don’t know his real name, but we call him Jack. He’s been coming here since the first day we opened.

They give us crap — they’re always giving us a hard time (sarcasm). Some of them are construction workers, some of them are from the hospitals, work at the mall, truck drivers come in here, people traveling.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Probably training the newbies. Some of them can get it down quick, some of them can’t. I’m real easy, I do hands on training. You need to be hands on. You can’t just tell them how to do it. If you just tell them how, they’re just gonna look at you like, I can’t do this. We’re hands on, we let ‘em do it.
But some people can’t.

I’ve got my sister-in-law that doesn’t know how to be a waitress, and I’m like, ‘Come on it’s easy!’ I know it’s hard. Waitressing is very hard, but if you’ve done it for 17 years, it’s what you’ve lived off.

Why is it difficult for some people?

Because they can’t multi-task. You gotta multi-task. I can grab coffee, get the register, take your plates at the same time, and then go back to what I was doing before. When some of the regulars come in, we already know what their food is, so we get it going. We’ve got the best cooks here too.

What’s the key to being good at your job?

Just don’t bring your problems here. Whatever problems you have out in the world, and I know it’s hard, but when you come through those doors, just put a smile on your face. If you need someone to talk to, I’ll help you cope and get you back on track and let’s go to work. But some people don’t know how to do that and it’s hard. So we just teach them.

The cooks say it’s kinda hard — the physical side of it — because they have 5, 6 things and they gotta know what to do. But we’ve got good cooks, so they can handle it.

How do politics or the economy affect you?

I don’t pay attention to it. The world is gonna end one day, we just don’t know when. I just want to live my life day by day. Take it step by step.

You can hear the pros and cons of what this president has done and what the other ones were doing back then, but to me it’s all the same. That’s why I don’t vote, cuz it’s the same stuff over and over again, it’s just a different way that they turn it. So I really don’t pay attention.

I’d rather just be with my family and go out and have fun, rather than sitting there, watching TV going, “We’re all gonna die today.” If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. It’s up to the Lord if he wants us home or not.

Is the business affected by politics or the economy?

No, we have the regulars. We might slow down because of the weather.

Do you take work home with you?

No. Work is work. If I have a problem, I just keep it inside, or I’ll just go and talk to that person before I go home, so I don’t have to bring it home.

What’s your shift here?

7 a.m. — 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays off.

I noticed you still dance a little bit while you’re helping customers?

Yeah, because here I gotta motivate; get my customers laughing and giggling and saying, “Oh look she’s having fun.” So that’s just what I do. You see the other ones, they’re just moping around, but me I’m like, “Nope, come on, we’ve gotta have some fun!”

Do you like your job?

Yes, I do.