Denny’s was my first job. I was a waitress. I wore a uniform tie silkscreened with a child’s drawing of kids holding hands around a globe called, “We are the World,” or something. I worked at a Denny’s near my home in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. My parents joked the name of our village ought to be pronounced Me-no-money. In 1994, all I wanted was money.

I was 16 when I started working at Denny’s. My 24-hour diner was located further off the freeway than usual. We saw mostly regulars but also had our fair share of truckers, bikers, and bucks passing through with the rodeo. The staff mirrored our cliental: three-parts lifer, one-part drifter.

For nearly two years, I wiped up sticky coins and peeled off dollar bills from Denny’s tabletops. The tips I picked up there—from the people I waited on, the people I worked with—have served me well in life.

“Don’t date the boys you serve.” Debbie, age 36

“Whatever! They don’t hate you; they’re just hungry.” Greta, age 19 (the smoking section’s favorite)

“As long as the coffee’s hot and it’s served with a smile, we’ll forgive you for just ’bout anything, darlin!” Wanda, senior-citizen regular

“Save your money, sugar, even the change. It’ll add up.” Terry, 29-forever

“At the end of the shift, remember who helped you out.” Missy, age 17

It has been over a decade since I’ve eaten in a Denny’s. To my delight, a new one recently opened in Manhattan, not too far from where I live.

This morning Melinda rolled over in bed, at the unreasonable hour of 6:09AM, and mumbled the sweetest words: “Wanna go to Fancy Denny’s?”

Cup inscription: "At a diner, a cup of coffee is never half empty."

Cup inscription: “At a diner, a cup of coffee is never half empty.”

We both ordered Grand Slam Breakfasts. When mine arrived, I breathed in the familiar scent. I took a bite and savored the taste that I knew so well.

“It still tastes like freedom,” I said, cherishing the mouthful of pancakes (with that whipped butter), scrambled eggs, sausage link, and syrup drizzled over all of it.

“This is totally going to give us the shits.”

“Probably,” I agreed. Until then, I wanted to relish the nostalgia.

Denny’s, in many ways, was my first taste of independence. Bites of a Grand Slam Breakfast will forever be associated with the moment I realized there was a big, big life ahead of me, and a grand world to be part of that I for the first time had the means to discover.

The Denny's Grand Cru Slam

The Denny’s Grand Cru Slam

On a special occasion, I’ll be returning for The Grand Cru Slam.

Manhattan Denny’s is at 150 Nassau Street.