Patricia Low can tell you something about most of the regulars she has served at Jimmy’s Place in North Miami over the last half century — just not their last names.
Glenn is into race cars. Ben is a tennis instructor at the Miami Shores Village Tennis Complex. And then there’s little Annie ‘Too Much,’ so named because her grandmother said she was just ‘too much.’
“But a lot of my favorite customers have passed away,” said Low, 71, who will pack it in on Sunday, 45 years after she began waiting tables at the diner on Northeast 125th Street and West Dixie Highway.
She will wash her last black apron, her last white blouse and put away her white shoes. What she will keep wearing, however, is a gold necklace with a medal bearing the Virgin Mary. Her sister Barbara, 69, gave it to her years ago.
"I never take it off," she said. "I wear it for protection."
On Saturday morning, Low didn’t need any protection. Her loyal customers were there for her last Saturday shift, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Billy and Cynthia Dixon, who live in Coconut Grove, drove up to North Miami to see Low one last time. They had their usual: a Southern-style breakfast of grits and biscuits.
Bill, 61, said the food is what drew them first to Jimmy's, but it was “Patti’’ who kept bringing them back.
"You get attached," Bill said. "Like a barber, they know what you want."
The Dixons left behind a chocolate zucchini Bundt cake that Cynthia had baked. When it was time to leave, they hugged her and kissed her on the cheek, like family.
Low’s career at Jimmy’s had everything to do with family. The diner, with its red vinyl booths and brown Formica tabletops, was a part of the Ranch House chain in 1969 when Low started. Her mother had worked there and persuaded Low to leave her job at Publix and join the crew at Ranch House.
Low said her mom, who worked at the diner for about 23 years, taught her what it takes to be a successful waitress.
“That was neat,” Low said. “She would teach me how to carry plates, cups and saucers and arm service.”
Low said she was “scared to death” during her first week, a shy 26-year-old. But her timidness faded, and after about two years on the job, she got the hang of it.
“I would look at the other girls and think, ‘Am I doing this right?’ ” she said. “Thinking back, it was kind of silly.”
Low said there was a point in the early ‘70s that she, her mother, her daughter, Lori Marie, and her sister Barbara all worked at the diner. Although the other three moved on — Lori Marie moved to Port St. Lucie in the 1970s, Mom retired in '87, Barbara did so in 2004 — Low said the thought of leaving never crossed her mind.
"That wasn't in the realm of possibility," she said. "This was never my job; it was my career. My roots are here."
Low was born and raised in the Little River neighborhood off 79th Street, just west of North Miami Avenue. She moved with her mother and daughter to a house in Carol City, across the street from her sister, in 1973. She has been there ever since.
Serving at Jimmy’s Place, she said, has been more than a job to her.
“I felt at home here,” Low said. “The owners have been very good to me.”
Her regular customers are like family, she said. They would often show her pictures and sometimes bring the people in the photos to her section of Jimmy’s Place, which has always been to the left of the entrance.
Glenn Bleeker, a customer for 42 years, said he started eating there in 1972. Bleeker likes to switch up his breakfast, sometimes opting for Cuban or Colombian style cuisine in the morning. But whenever he wants eggs and grits done right, he makes sure Low takes his order.
“Patti was always friendly and cheerful,” Bleeker said. “She knows my family and remembers my brother’s name when he comes to visit.”
Ben Hanks, the tennis teacher, said Low knows exactly what he wants each time he’s gone to the diner over the last 20 years. During lunchtime, in between tennis lessons, Hanks likes to have a tuna salad sandwich
“I don’t even order when I go in,” Hanks said. “I sit down and it’s ready.”
Low said she was torn over whether to continue working or retire, but she decided her family needs her now. Low lives with her sister Barbara and her husband Richard, who is ill. She plans to help in his caregiving and spend more time with her sister.
“Forty-five years is a long time,” she said. “I started as a blushing bride and now I’m a great-grandmother five times over.”
Low wants to be a candy-striper, a hospital volunteer, specifically for veterans. But she said she is not ready to commit herself to a full-time schedule just yet.
Until then she wants to go on more cruises and drive across the country to Portland, Oregon, with her brother-in-law and sister, who is her unofficial travel agent. They plan to stop at the small towns, maybe even eat in a diner or two.
“We can take our time because I won’t be working,” Low said.
Her advice to new waitresses at Jimmy’s Place: Take a deep breath and “calm yourself inside.”