Pancakes galore. Photo: Morgan Ong.
There's more than pancakes under this big top. An old-school coffee shop survives best when nothing is changed.
Sacramento's Pancake Circus clings proudly to a '60s coffee-shop culture. It’s a time warp with career waitresses. After spending a couple of weeks talking to the people who work there, food reporter Elaine Corn assembled an audio slide show to give the feel of the place, the vibe, the buzz and a bit of history.
WAITRESS 1: I have white, wheat, sour dough, English muffin, rye, dark rye, raisin or biscuit.
WAITRESS 2: You doing OK sir? Would you like more coffee?
TERRI MEAD: It’s not about the food, It’s about the people that work here. My name is Terri Mead. I’m the general manager of the Pancake Circus. I’ve worked here 8 years. I’m 55. We are all older people working here.You don’t have anyone here younger than 35. Lulu is 76.
LULU GONSALVES: My full name is Louise Maureen Rayzor Gonsalves. And I’m known as Lulu. I’ve worked here 32 years. I enjoy people. I’ve always been very outgoing, maybe it’s because I’m a Leo. It’s a unique place to be, it really is, because you have a very personal rapport with your customers.
TERRI: Y ou can be honey, baby, darling, sweetheart
LULU: You may not know their names but you know what they eat, you know what they want to drink, and it’s ordered and it’s poured before they walk in the door.
PATRICK MELARKEY: My name is Patrick Melarkey. I am 77 years old. I could walk in here and they almost start preparing the food.
WAITRESS 1: Here we go, Mr. Melarkey. There’s your E with bacon and poached egg. You folks enjoy.
TERRI: The brain of a waitress at the Pancake Circus is a multi-tasking machine
. You’re getting their set-ups, you’re grabbing their syrup, you’re grabbing their Tabasco, you’re grabbing their ketchup, you’re putting it on the table, you’re hanging your ticket.
Interlude: Would you like more coffee?
TERRI: A coffee pot in Pancake Circus is like an extension of that waitress’s arm and you’ve got a bottomless cup. We’re going to continue to keep serving you. We’re going to keep filling your cup until you can’t take it anymore.
Interlude: The sounds of the pc. Or, you try and get fancy, you call it Le Cirque. Just look around. It’s a circus. It’s entertainment.
LULU TOO MUCH: We are in a very multi-cultural situation here on Broadway. We have, let’s face it, the tattoos, the piercings, the mini skirts, the baggy pants, the blue hair, the pink hair. On the surface, yeah, there’s a lot of change. But underneath, people are people. And yet here, it all relates back to a time and a place in all of us that we remember... Pancakes that are too big, too much butter, the syrup, the bacon, too much coffee. But we represent those home roots
TERRI: When I was young, this restaurant was a car lot. It’s gone through 4 owners now, and Naren never changed anything.
NAREN MUNI: My name is Naren Muni and I’m originally from India. I have owned Pancake Circus for approximately 7 years.I am the rookie because I am the newest employee here. I liked everything about this restaurant the first time I saw it.
LULU: The décor’s the same. The menu is pretty much the same. We have the same coffee. We’re serving the same pancakes.
Interlude: Two pancakes, buckwheat. Special French toast, Eggs Bennie fade I’ve got country sausage …..
TERRI: You guys hand-write your tickets? Yeah, we handwrite our tickets.
LULU: We turn through here on a Saturday or a Sunday anywhere between 6 hundred and 8 hundred customers from 6 am to 3 in the afternoon. In order to do the volume we do and do it at the speed we do, we’d have to have five separate computers, one for each waitress. We don’t have room for that.
TERRI: You write your ticket, you hang the ticket.
LULU: You write the ticket, you hang it, and when the food comes up, and whoever is there delivers it.
TERRI: And you come up and that food is flying up out of that kitchen.
LULU: If they want hash browns or country potatoes, there’s a code for that. H.B. hash browns. W.W.W.T., whole wheat toast. S.D., sour dough. Egg over easy, O.E. Scrambled, S.C.R.
Interlude: Would you like more coffee?
TERRI: I think if it changed, if we took away the funkiness, the kitchiness, the clowns, then we’d become like everybody else. We’d become a chain, and we’re not a chain.
LULU: You get caught up in things here. It’s not a job. It’s a home you’re visiting with friends on a daily basis. And so, you just stay, because it’s very enjoyable.
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