“It’s like coming home,” said John Nesta, of Mr. John’s Pancake House in Montauk. “It’s a legend.”
“These ladies have been here for years,” added his wife, Elizabeth, looking at Cristina Albranda and smiling. It is no exaggeration. Ms. Albranda has waited on customers at the friendly, no-frills eatery for 31 years.
The Nestas, teachers who live in Westchester, have been visiting Montauk for weekends and summers for 30 years — first with their children, they said, and now with their grandchildren, or by themselves. Mr. John’s has always been a customary part of their stay.
Ms. Albranda said she has watched generations of families, and knows their stories, as well as how they like their eggs. “They feel comfortable here,” she said of the regulars, many of whom are local business owners. “This is family,” she said.
After St. Patrick’s Day, she starts to see new faces, she said, many of whom ask for directions and advice. “I should work for the Chamber of Commerce.” She also gives advice to some of her summer customers who haven’t asked for it: “Chill. Enjoy your vacation.” They’re in such a rush, she said.
As many business owners agree, the August clientele can be rough. Ms. Albranda had to express her dissatisfaction once to a customer she felt belittled by, when she raised her pointer finger to demand immediate attention. “I do this because I enjoy it,” she told the “trust-fund baby,” “but I am not enjoying you.” Those at the table with the customer applauded, and an apology was given.
But most of her customers are so grateful that it makes up for those who aren’t, she said.
When she gets off work, she drives her pickup truck down to the beach for a six-mile walk. If it was a rough day, she said, it all goes away, and “I’m good for the next day.”
The best part of the job is the hours, she said, and talking to people. Having lived in Montauk since she was 14, she appreciates the afternoons to enjoy the land and community. She said she met and fell in love with a local fisherman, who runs the Montauk charter boat, and the couple has raised two children in the hamlet. The downside of the job, she said, is the need to plan and set aside a chunk of her tips for her retirement.
Asked about the celebrity photos on the wall, she said, as if it were obvious, “Oh yeah, I have served all of them.” Julianne Moore is one. Chuckling at the thought, she said, “Dick Cavett is a regular, what a sense of humor he has.” Same for Aida Turturro. “She’s here all the time.”
“So many new places open,” she said, but none of them affects the business at Mr. John’s, including, she said, another pancake house that opened up across the street. In July and August there are lines out the door, she said. “Once they come, they return. They remember you.”