Comfort behind the counter

Marcella Morse

Photo by Pam Figge

If you’re hungry for a hearty breakfast, hung over or just want to feel a little love and kindness in the morning, Marcella Morse is ready to please. Patrons at The Roost diner on Park Avenue, where Morse works, are frequent targets of her well-honed congeniality, often greeted with a “Good morning, honey” or “Would you like some coffee, honey?” Not unlike June Cleaver, Morse stands behind the counter with her pot of coffee and her smiling face. And she didn’t get there overnight. Morse is an icon in the world of Chico eateries. What remains constant is her cheery attitude and gracious service. Morse has been waitressing since 1963 when, as a teenager, she learned her trade from her mother at the family’s eatery in Willows. She’s seen it all—hung over, tipsy, grouchy, charming, old, young and in-between. She honed her skills by working “dinner houses” for years, most notably Pat and Larry’s Steakhouse. Working for the late Larry Juanarena and his wife, Patsy, for a dozen years, Morse followed the couple to the Park Avenue Steakhouse and Cafe, now The Roost and owned by Larry’s niece, Linda Juanarena. “I went with the family and the building,” Morse joked.

What did you learn from your mother about waitressing?

In my day, you respected your parents and if they said, “You work,” you did. My mom taught me to be respectful of others and keep your voice down—you never know who might be at the counter. Make sure to add up your ticket right away; you don’t want to forget one thing ordered, and when the customer is done, they want get up and go.

What makes a good customer?

People who are polite and treat you with respect. Blue-collar people are respectful of folks that work. I know most of my customers by name. I like young people. I do think it’s funny when they wear pants that look like pajama bottoms into the cafe. It’s a different generation.

Ever deal with an unruly patron?

Normally there was a reason for that at Pat and Larry’s—usually they were intoxicated. If they were not nice, we didn’t have to serve them. Sometimes just switching waitresses would work. We don’t serve alcohol at The Roost, so it hasn’t been a problem. A customer just might be in a bad mood, but that happens in a blue moon. Mom also taught me to “kill ’em with kindness” and make sure they have enough coffee!

What do you love about your job?

I love people and I love the people I work with—they’re great. It helps to serve really good, fresh food with top ingredients.

What’s the craziest or funniest thing you’ve seen while working?

Once at Pat and Larry’s, a lady just went to sleep with her head on the table. I didn’t want to embarrass her. I walked about 10 feet away and clapped my hands loudly. She woke up, never knowing anyone saw her snoozing.