The regulars wave to Dorothy Anderson the moment they walk in. For nearly four decades, Anderson has taken their White Castle orders, cooked their burgers and assembled their Crave Cases. Perfectly, each time. Smiling, always.
“She’s well-respected and well liked … by me and how many thousands of other people over the years,” said Ken McConkey, who’s been stopping by the Columbia Heights location since the 1990s. “She’s the heart and soul of that place.”
Anderson, 64, has been working for White Castle since 1980, at this location the longest. The Bloomington resident has gotten to know her customers, who bring her cards, candy and flowers on holidays.
“I know my customers love me,” Anderson said. “It’s nice to be appreciated. I try to return that love back.”
After more than 38 years, she retires on March 29.
“I love what I do,” she said. She paused, laughed. “But it’s time to go. I want to enjoy life a little bit before the Lord comes to get me.”
Post-retirement, Anderson said that she and Vera Farrar, her fraternal twin, plan to travel together often — but by car, rather than plane. “I would like to go to Hawaii, but it’s too far.”
After growing up in Marvell, Ark., a small city 100 miles east of Little Rock, Anderson moved to St. Louis, where she held one job for 10 months, another for 11.
“I never stuck a year at a job,” she said. “It wasn’t meant for me to stay there.”
When she became pregnant with twins, she moved to Minneapolis, where Farrar had recently settled. In 1980, after experiencing a miscarriage, she got a job at the White Castle on Blaisdell Avenue where her sister had recently begun working.
“She got her own place,” Farrar said, “but we stayed near each other.”
They worked together in Minneapolis, then St. Paul. But Anderson’s fast food career lasted much longer. In 2005, for her 25th anniversary, White Castle flew her to Ohio, where she toured the owner’s mansion and stayed at a fine hotel. It was her first time flying.
She appreciated the benefits and the Christmas bonuses. But for the next decade, her wages stagnated. Anderson was OK with that, she said — then she amended that statement:
“I told a lie,” she said, laughing and looking upward, “Lord, forgive me.” She was frustrated by the minuscule raises, she said, but didn’t want to start over.
Anderson worked for many years as a manager. But even after deciding to step down into a less demanding role, she remained the place’s backbone.
Each morning, she arrives via Metro Mobility an hour — or more likely, two hours — early. That meant about 5:30 a.m. on a recent Monday for a shift that was supposed to start at 7 a.m. It was already busy, so she clocked in at 6.
“It’s in my blood,” Anderson said. “I’ve been late maybe twice. I was in the hospital and I got here on time.” She drinks coffee, listens to gospel music, readies the place for the day.
Her appeal to customers, too, is rooted in that hard work. No gimmicks. Just a conscientious, friendly attitude. Her laugh is musical, bright and full.
“I was getting hamburgers from her when I was a kid,” said Denny Weldon, 70. “I don’t look like a kid anymore.” But Anderson hasn’t aged, he added.
“Oddly enough, other than a few grays, there’s not much change.”
Weldon stopped in on a recent morning, as he does every morning, for breakfast. Sausage, bacon, cheese.
“On toast?” Anderson asked, more as a statement than a question. “Whole wheat.”
Through the years, Weldon has appreciated Anderson’s “old-school” style and “service-oriented personality.” She takes time with people, he said, takes care of people.
“They all know her. And not just in White Castle. The neighborhood knows her, everybody knows her,” Weldon said. Though he’s happy she’ll be soon enjoying retirement, “she’ll definitely be missed.”
Before heading out the door, he leaned toward Anderson. “Four more years!” he said.
Anderson laughed, then shook her head.