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September 20, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
A hot plate of pancakes at the Broadway Diner can improve the roughest of mornings. Being greeted at the door by friendly diner employee Eunice McCaleb is an added bonus. A 20-year veteran of the Broadway Diner, McCaleb knows how to handle everything from the early morning regulars who want the jukebox turned off to the rambunctious college students visiting at midnight for a greasy snack.
Age doesn’t slow her down. At 73, she still works weekends at the diner and has made quite a name for herself since she started on Aug. 26, 1992.
When she isn’t working, she spends time with family and close friends at her home in Fulton. Some of her children live in her neighborhood, and she has also adopted a neighbor into her family, treating him as her own son. The family takes turns making dinner every night, McCaleb says.
Diner fans who have left town still send her Christmas cards. They also visit from St. Louis and Kansas City just to see her at work. McCaleb undoubtedly gives the diner’s favorite dish, The Stretch, a run for its money when it comes to the most popular part of the establishment.
What has kept you at the diner this long?
Just the people, the customers. There’s this one boy Adam who has been around for 18 years at least. He’s graduated now, and he lives in Texas. He calls me on my birthday every year.
When you first started working here, did you think you would be here for 20 years?
No, I did not! I thought after the first night that that’d be it. Because it was a Friday night, and it was busy. I had never waited tables before, and I thought, “Oh, my God!” But I decided I’d come back on Saturday and see what happened — and I’ve been here ever since.
What is your favorite memory from working at the diner?
Adam called on my birthday one year — it’s been 15 years ago, probably. He came in one night with a bouquet of roses and baby’s breath, and it was a crowd in here. He was standing, and there’s a ceiling fan right there above the register; he was holding them up, and he got it caught in the fan. Phew! Roses went everywhere. So he said, “I’ll bring you some more tomorrow.”
What is the most difficult part of working at the diner?
Well, there’s really not too much difficulty. It’s the weather in the winter time, driving back and forth and all, but other than that it’s not the job, it’s just the getting here and getting home.
What have you learned from working at the diner?
People in general are pretty friendly. Each generation that grows up has the same little theories in life.
Why do you think people love the diner so much?
We have people that come in that their fathers (and) their mothers have gone to college here and all. I think it’s the only real diner in Columbia, and I think that people just like to come in and eat and say: “Guess what? I eat at a real diner,” you know. Plus, we have good food.
Do you have any other things in your life that you’d like to do?
Nope. I’ve raised my five kids, and my 10 grandchildren are getting older, and I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do, I suppose. It may not have been the best, but I accomplished what I set out to do; that’s all that matters.
You recently celebrated your 20th year of working at the diner. How did you celebrate?
I had interviews. Then my family took me to Golden Corral for dinner. We had a little party there, and a bunch of friends came out. The owner (of Broadway Diner) got me a corsage. Then one of the girls at work here got me a dozen and a half roses. Everybody signed a card; a lot of the customers stopped by. It turned out pretty good, because I don’t think I’ll be here another 20 (years).