By John Schaffner
It’s easy to think of Fran Russell as being one in a million. She has worked for 31 years as a waitress at the IHOP in Sandy Springs, driving 31 miles each way, five days a week from Stockbridge.
How many people are there with that type of dedication? That is 7,750 days working the same job in the same place, serving much the same food to many of the same people.
Fran retired March 14 after serving probably a million pancakes to customers and confidants, who kept her coming back day after day. She has worked for five owners and has been waiting on the same tables, in the same building, which has changed only with a few coats of paint and a few new faces.
But Fran was not one in a million. She wasn’t even the longest serving waitress at the IHOP at 6120 Roswell Road. Her friend and fellow server, Betty Roberts, has worked for 37 years at the same IHOP, waitressing on the morning shift from 6 a.m. with Fran, Monday through Friday.
Like Fran, Betty, too, has traveled 62 miles round trip each day to work for those years, but from the opposite direction — she lives in Acworth.
The two women with a total of 68 years waitressing at the Sandy Springs eatery, are friends and comrades at work, but each have their own lives outside of IHOP. Fran is 57; Betty is 10 years her senior.
Fran has been married for 35 years to the same man, Allen, and has three grown children, Russell, James and Dina. Betty is divorced, has two daughters, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and is still working to feed her passion for travel. She has traveled to 49 of the 50 United States and several international locales.
This year, Fran and Betty may travel together to Hawaii, the one state Betty has yet to visit and one that Fran yearns to visit in retirement with a couple of members from her family.
When she first started working at the IHOP (an acronym for International House of Pancakes), Fran lived nearby. But she and her husband, were building their house in Stockbridge. “I’ll just work there for a little while,” Fran said at the time, “Then I will find a job down there. And, here I am. I have gone through a lot of cars.”
For all those years, Fran arrived at work each day at 5:45 a.m., after leaving her home at 5 a.m. “It takes a little longer in the afternoon (going home) because you have a bit more traffic. But in the mornings, no one is out.”
Asked if she ever thought of getting a job closer to home, Fran said she did when they built an IHOP in Stockbridge. “But this was home,” she explained. “All of my customers…I just couldn’t give them up.”
Over the years, those customers have included singer Whitney Houston, real estate mogul and now U. S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, local TV personalities Brenda Wood and Fred Kahlil, local personality Joe South and comedian Jerry Farber, just to name a few. Fran said Farber always eats the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity breakfast.
What item has she sold the most of? “I probably sell more of that breakfast sampler, which is a variety of everything.” Neither Fran nor Betty picked the signature pancakes as one of their favorite meals.
Fran and Betty each would regularly work six to seven tops (tables) on their shift, which averaged out to about 50 tables or 75 to 100 customers a day. And many of those customers were regulars.
“I love these people,” Fran said. “I’m going to miss them so much.”
But she added that she wants to rest a little, and play with her grandchildren before they get older. “When they get to be teenagers, they don’t want anything to do with you. So I want to play with them while I can.” Her four granddaughters range in age from 10 to 15.
What is the hardest thing about the job? “Being on your feet all day,” Fran said, adding she wonders how many miles she has walked inside the IHOP over the past 31 years. There is no way of telling for sure.
One thing that is for sure, Fran will be missed by a bunch of regular customers after 31 years of serving them their food, seasoned with a smile and friendly banter. But they still will have Betty for a couple of years or so.