BEFORE THE door closes behind you, the greetings near the counter meet you. And if you’re a regular, your table’s already set with your drink order. Only once will lifelong Bedford County resident Shelley Gann be a stranger to you. Her customers are more than customers – they’re friends.
At the age of 12, Gann went to work for her aunt at Garrett’s Corral and later worked at the Hi-Ho Diner. Then, after a very short stint in a local factory, she quickly learned where she best fit.
“It wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m used to talking and laughing and having that freedom of harassing everybody. I just couldn’t do it,” Gann said. She uses harassing in a jokingly manner the way siblings would.
Gann’s been with the Shelbyville Huddle House now for 25 years. It’s home, and she’s definitely in her element.
Gann sees more than just faces on her shifts; she sees life’s ups and downs. Good times are celebrated, like birthdays and anniversaries. When her customers face challenges, she feels those, too. And when her customers are not able to come back, they take a bit of her heart with them. “Some just don’t see it, but it takes a toll on my heart,” she said.
And it goes both ways. Gann’s customers’ hearts break with hers as well. Recently, she lost someone very close to her and continues to grieve. Her regulars know her loss, and their prayers and hugs have helped.
Unaware to her customers, their humor in her booths and tables has saved her. The unpredictability and negativity has left no rock unturned, affecting every person on all corners of the globe. Diners, like Gann’s, are no different.
“I totally understand the situation. If I can do something to put a smile on their face, it helps me control myself, getting everybody laughing. We all have bad days,” Gann said, “If I can make you smile, then we’ve accomplished the day.”
Her work ethic sets the bar high for co-workers, many of whom she’s helped train. Perhaps intimidated by her boldness, some say they wish they could be more like her. “They’re learning. When they say they wish they were more like me, I tell them, you can; just jump in there.”
Gann’s mother, Faye Duke, is also her co-worker and has shaped Gann’s personality.
“We worked together on third shift for a long time. We were a great team. Lots of people don’t know she’s my mama. When we’re here, we treat each other professionally, but when we walk out that door, we’re mother and daughter.”
After many years on her feet, the job has taken a toll on her body. Gann shows up, despite the pain, motivated by the connection to her customers and her co-workers.
“My body’s so out of whack, but what keeps me going the most is my customers. They matter to me.” Striving to set an example for her two adult children and four grandchildren, Gann said, “I want them to be strong and to know that I never gave up.”
Even on your way out, Gann’s got her eye on you.
“Y’all have a good day,” she says, as the customers head home.
Shelley Gann warms hearts and lightens spirits – no extra charge. -GN