End of an era
April 23, 2013
By Christina Corrales-Toy
IHOP institution, Susie Nutzhorn, is ready to hang up her apron after 30 years
Longtime IHOP waitress Susie Nutzhorn has a certain philosophy about her line of work.
The way she sees it, she doesn’t really work for the famous pancake house, rather her true employers are the men, women and children who enter through the Issaquah restaurant’s doors every day.
“The customers have been my boss all of these years,” she said.
After more than three decades in the building, during which Nutzhorn estimates the ownership changed about 10 times, the popular server has decided it is time to hang up her blue apron.
“I think it’s time to get on with a different phase in my life, and be able to enjoy family and the things that I like to do while I’m physically and mentally still able to do so,” she said.
Nutzhorn’s last day at IHOP is May 3, a day that will likely be bittersweet for her loyal customers, of which there are many.
‘You couldn’t find a better person’
The popular waitress only works the busy morning shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but she’s so likable that her regulars don’t mind waiting just to sit in her section, an act that truly warms her heart, she said.
“That makes me feel wonderful,” she said. “It makes me feel that I’m kind of successful at what I’m doing, bringing happiness and a smile on people’s faces. That’s what it’s really all about.”
Nutzhorn has the innate ability to make her customers feel as if they are the only ones in the room, despite the fact that she’s busily serving a row of other diners. She has that curious talent to anticipate her patrons’ needs before they even realize what exactly it is that they require.
“You couldn’t find a better person. She’s very people-oriented,” said John Huber, a loyal IHOP customer.
She does it all with an unceasing smile that seems to light up the room and inspire others around her.
“To me, she’s very special,” said Yesenia Roldan, one of Nutzhorn’s coworkers. “I really like the way she treats people. Customers always want to sit in her section because she takes care of them really well.”
That’s how Nutzhorn is with everyone she meets. She strives to treat everyone as if they were a celebrated guest in her Mirrormont home.
“The most important thing is to recognize those people when they come through the door and make them feel comfortable like they are coming into your home,” she said. “That’s the way I’ve treated my customers.”
Nutzhorn will retire as the building’s longest-serving employee, having witnessed decades of change as a carousel of restaurants filtered through the establishment. Through it all though, Nutzhorn remained the only constant.
“I just kind of go with the building,” she joked.
A passion for life
Once Nutzhorn officially hangs up her apron, she and her husband will pack up their Mirrormont home and move to their vacation house in Oregon. Retirement will allow her to focus on some of her other passions, including family, music and cars, she said.
Nutzhorn recently began playing her prized cello, a childhood gift from her parents, after a 45-year hiatus from the instrument. Inspired by her friend Diane Lange Jones, Nutzhorn joined a youth orchestra to help reawaken her dormant playing skills.
Playing among high school students at a church in SeaTac, Nutzhorn doesn’t mind that she’s one of the only ones in the room that could put more than 18 candles on a birthday cake. She thrives on the students’ energy and enthusiasm.
“It’s really fun to be with the children,” she said. “They’re so exuberant and so right on. I’m just amazed at the ability of the children that I play with, and they accept me even at my age. It’s really neat to just be one of the orchestra players.”
The students admire Nutzhorn as much as she does them. They could not imagine a practice without her encouragement and positivity, though they will have to after she performs in her last concert May 20.
“We’ll be in the middle of playing and Susie will shout out ‘Good job, guys!’ at the end of a song,” said Robyn Morant, a member of the orchestra. “I haven’t been here long, but I’m going to miss her very much. She’s very welcoming.”
Nutzhorn plans to continue playing her beloved cello when she moves to Oregon, but she also expects to make plenty of time for her other passion: the two 1987 Porsches she and her husband own.
“We both love to drive them,” she said. “We like to go on wine tours. I just love the feeling of getting in the car and driving. It is fun repairing them and keeping them nice.”
The end of an era
The IHOP staff is planning to honor Nutzhorn in some capacity before she leaves, Roldan said, but her absence will undoubtedly leave a bittersweet hole in the establishment.
“We’re going to miss her a lot,” Roldan said. “A lot of people are really used to seeing Susie. It’s going to be really hard.”
As hard as it will be on her coworkers, it may be even harder for Nutzhorn, who is preparing to say goodbye to a clientele, a building and a profession that has helped shaped her life for the past 31 years.
“I’m going to miss all of them very much so,” she said. “It’s been a blessing, but life goes on, and it’s time to move and do something different. I just want to thank everyone for their continued years of support and friendship.”