Customers and workers marvel at her work ethic
Servers at the Greenwood Olive Garden know that if Hazel Thompson is behind them, they risk being trampled by the 85-year-old waitress if they don’t move at an adequate pace.
“We call her ‘Freight Train Hazel’ because if you get in her way, you will get run over,” laughed waitress Debbie Gosman. “She is as cute as a button and an inspiration to all of us. She is always so positive. She is always saying, ‘I’m just fine. If I were any better, there would have to be two of me.’ ”
A waitress for 37 years, the past 25 at the Olive Garden, Thompson previously worked at Lee’s Inn in Franklin for 12 years until it was sold.
“I love it here because there are a lot of great people to work with. Everybody is so helpful and friendly. I have made a lot of friends here, and I have a lot of regular customers.”
She started as a hostess and was trained as a waitress six months later.
“I care a lot about my customers. They always get good service,” said Thompson, who noted that her service and age result in some great tips. “I do good; I can’t complain.” She was once tipped $130 on a $33 bill and $100 on a $50 tab.
Thompson works four nights a week and said she feels comfortable waiting on up to 12 people at a time. She used to work double shifts – lunch and dinner on the same day. When asked if she preferred to wait on a table of men or women, men came out the winners. “Men are not as demanding, and they are not in as big of a hurry.”
The only preferential treatment given to Thompson is that her station is close to the kitchen so she doesn’t have to run all over the restaurant to deliver food. “And we don’t make her carry the real heavy trays,” said manager Greg Tuzzio, who’s been with the company 22 years and was training to become a manager when he met Thompson. Tuzzio later left to manage another store and returned to the Greenwood restaurant 2 1/2 years ago.
“I am always amazed with her service,” he said. “She can run circles around people three times as young as she is. Guests love her service. I have known her 19 years, and it has always been a pleasure. I was happy to see she was still here when I came back.”
“I’m never tired at the end of a shift,” said Thompson. “I feel like I can always go for a couple of more hours at the end of a shift.”
Thompson said Tuzzio is a good manager because he is always willing to pitch in when help is needed. “If people want to see a manager, I get Greg because he is real good with people. And he’s so good-looking.
“Everybody is asking me when I’m going to retire. I say, ‘Have you ever seen a 100-year-old waitress? Well ... stick around here, and you might,’ ” she laughed.
If a guest isn’t sure what to order, Thompson recommends the Chicken & Shrimp Carbonara or the spaghetti and meatballs. “They are both delicious,” she emphasized, as is the Zuppa Toscana, a “fabulous” spicy soup whose ingredients include sausage, potatoes, bacon and crushed red peppers.
And while Thompson enjoys her work, she does it in part because she needs the money. She lives with her daughter, Angie, in Greenwood.
In her pre-waitressing years, Thompson worked her tail end off on farms in Freemont, Mich., and New Palestine. She and her late husband, Robert Thompson, operated dairy and hog farms. “I drove a tractor, milked cows, plowed and ran the combine. It was hard work.”
The couple were blessed with three children, five grandchildren and six great-children. She attended Manual High School but had to drop out as a sophomore to work at Hook’s Drug Store because her father was ill.
An avid roller skater until she was in her 60s, Thompson likes to play bingo and computer games and take walks.
She also likes the new atmosphere at the Olive Garden, which has been remodeled and features upscale dining at reasonable prices. It’s clean, and customers love the new appearance, said Thompson, who plans on providing her customary stellar service for years to come.