Monday through Friday, and sometimes Saturday, too, Steve Hyde is up before the sun, but he’s not actually a morning person. For over a year now, he’s been waking up at 4:15 AM or so with the help of an alarm.
“For some people it’s natural,” he’ll say, “but not for me! Don’t think it ever will be.”
Steve is the owner of Mel’s Diner in Lone Oak. He’s also a cook, a server, and a dishwasher; at Mel’s, everybody does a little bit of everything. Steve gets to the diner about sunrise every morning to get things up and running for the breakfast crowd. Someone has to start the teas and coffee, turn on the oven and grill, and get the gravy going, and usually that someone is Steve. By 5:45, the door to Mel’s Diner is OPEN.
As Steve stands out front, holding the door and looking out into the still dark parking lot, truck engines turn off and early-rising men with names like Mike and John and Mr. Bill file in, giving waves and nods to Steve as they enter the light of the diner.
While Melissa makes the rounds, taking drink orders (coffee for everyone, of course), Steve starts cooking, and their are sounds of bacon sizzling and air vents humming. Though not a single ticket has been tacked above Steve at the grill, he’s already filling orders. He knows how Charles likes his eggs and whether Lonnie wants biscuits or toast. He knows that for breakfast, most people are creatures of habit, and the men who sit at his tables every morning are no exception.
“In the breakfast business, you’ve really got to work hard,” Steve said from behind the counter. “If you can develop a good group of regulars for breakfast, they’ll stay with you a long time.”
The types of folks who visit the same place for breakfast every week are the loyal type, of course, but Steve has found that they’re also just good people, plain and simple. “They may joke with you and this and that,” he said, “but they’ll do whatever it takes to help you. They look out for their friends.”
Things are going smoothly. Everyone’s happy with full, hot coffees (Melissa never lets a cup get much more than a third of the way empty), and half the tables are already working on their food. Melissa goes to make a fresh pot of coffee, but notices the industrial-size BUNN coffeemaker is refusing to turn on.
“There’s nothing revolutionary about this job,” Steve’s the first to admit. “You’ve just gotta love it, and I do. There’s always an opportunity to have some fun and do something good for somebody. On stressful days, everyone’s said at least once, Oh I wish everyone had to be a server for a day! We’ll always hear that. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I won’t ever do jobs that other people have done either.”
The rest of the day went just as smoothly as the day’s beginning. The normal breakfast crowd replaced the early-rising breakfast crowd, and then the lunch crowd came after. Order tickets for burgers and sandwiches started joining the tickets for breakfast items in the ticket clip above the grill, but Steve kept a batch of eggs at the ready up until close. Breakfast is their thing at Mel’s, and they’ve learned that people love breakfast at all times of day.
As they clean up, Melissa and the lunch server for the day, Mytanda, discuss the number one question they’re asked as servers at Mel’s.
“I’ve had so many people ask, ‘Is his name really Mel?’ because they think he looks like Mel from Mel’s Diner in Alice,” Mytanda said.
“Except that Steve’s got a better attitude!” Melissa ads. Steve smiles.
“Yeah, that guy was just mean! Crabby,” Mytanda says. The other question Steve says they hear quite often is “Where’s Flo?” and they’ll get the occasional “Kiss my grits!”
Once everything’s caught up at the diner, Steve plans to go home and work in the yard—it’s the perfect day for it, he’s decided. The cool, dark morning turned into a warm and cloudless day, and since the diner closes shop at three he still has ample time to enjoy it. For dinner? Nothing elaborate, nothing labor-intensive, and certainly not breakfast. All he wants is a sandwich.