Fleet of foot at the Fleetwood
by John C. Heider
From the June, 2017 issue
It is around 7 p.m. on the Saturday of U-M graduation weekend, and fourteen of the Fleetwood Diner's eighteen seats are filled, plus four outside. Waitress Dayna Logerquist, the lone server on duty, keeps chaos at bay. The twenty-nine-year-old zips and darts around the twelve-by-twenty-foot eatery in a balletic performance of nonstop motion and diligent grace, bends over seated diners to pour drinks, wipes a table, and directs new arrivals. "Never sit at a dirty table," she tells a party of five that's waiting. "It takes me twice as long to clear it if you're there."
She ducks behind the counter to wash cutlery till the dishwasher starts, grabs a mop to clean up a spilled water glass, brings a party of four their water, cutlery, and menus, clears another table left by breakfast food eaters, dashes to the register to cash out customers, pivots to screw the lid on the jar of tzatziki sauce, pops it back in the fridge, and, while slamming the door with her hip, scans its contents--all the while monitoring the status of her orders as the cook places them on the counter. The pace doesn't stop, and neither does she.
The narrow boxcar of a restaurant has been at the southwest corner of Liberty and Ashley since 1949, when it started life as the Dagwood Diner--Logerquist's maternal grandmother, Myrtle Mabry, worked there briefly. It's been part of Ann Arbor's restaurant counterculture for decades, frequented by hippies, professors, skateboard punks, the homeless, Wall Street Journal readers, and those simply craving its famous Hippie Hash.
Logerquist went to elementary school in Ann Arbor, moved to Baltimore with her family, and returned nine years ago. Her hair long and dyed bright magenta, she usually sports dark black rectangular glasses, deep red lip gloss, and leather wrist bracelets, today paired with blue jeans and a black scooped-neck T-shirt underneath a purple and black flannel shirt. Her look can bring to mind Bettie Page, and she's
done some modeling as the 1950s pinup over the years.
Logerquist came by the job in an appropriately Fleetwood-ian manner: "I was in there hungover one morning and learned they needed help. It took me two weeks to convince them to hire me." She says the toughest times are the crowded weekend breakfast shift and the thirteen-hour overnight marathon. Most nights, she averages somewhere between $170 and $250 in tips.
She juggles waiting tables with a second job selling clothes at Briarwood's Hot Topic. "A lot of my friends think I'm crazy to work the Fleetwood," she says, "but it pays my bills. I'm about to take my first vacation in ten years, and it also got me out from under $5,000 in debt" that piled up while she was working less lucrative serving jobs and taking classes at Washtenaw Community College.
Logerquist commands the diner with her voice. She calls out a cheery "hello" to new arrivals and communicates quickly when there will be a wait. "You have to know how to take a stage," she says, "as if you're doing theater."
As for bad customers--drunk, rude or otherwise--Logerquist's secret is elementary, literally so: "You treat them like children. You have to know how much to put up with them, and I only put up with it to a certain level." Recently she had a six-top whose customers had beers in a cooler and got belligerent when she told them to put away the brews. When they threatened to trash her on Yelp.com, she let everyone know who was boss, telling them, "I've got some balls, wanna see them?"
"I hang out with a lot of guys, so that's where I get some of my attitude," she explains with gusto. "I used to be a lot nicer before I started working at the Fleetwood."
Her stable of fans likes her just as she is. "She's high energy and awesome," says regular Kevin Brown, who works nearby at Pizza Pino. "She always makes my day better." Watching Logerquist, he says, motivates him to deal better with the occasional off-key guest on his own job: "If she can treat her customers great, so can I."
Tough as it is, she likes being the only server, with just her and the cook running the whole place. "I can't work at other restaurants with other staff," she confides to a regular seated at the counter. "I don't like sharing the responsibility."
"When it's one-on-one, you have to depend on yourself more," she explains. She's got plenty of experience taking charge: By the age of thirteen, she was doing the laundry and getting dinner on the table for her family of five. "I've always been a hard worker," she says. Growing up, "on my chore charts in my home I did all the kids' chores--my own and my two other siblings."
At the Fleetwood, doing everything herself means that "a lot of the time I'm crazy with multitasking. And I'm counting too. I count people walking in, see where they sit, and I go by who sat down first. I'm always paying attention to 'what do we need, what needs to get done?'" She always strives to leave the Fleetwood in better shape than she finds it, prepping coffee, filling ketchup bottles and salt and pepper shakers. "I'm not an asshole."
Asked how long she'll keep it up, she guesses, "Five years, but it depends on when I'm sick of this state. I want to run my own restaurant someday. Diner-esque, but a little more modern. More chill."
Meanwhile, she'll keep the Fleetwood on an even keel. Part of her motivation: "I think of the beer at the end of the night, how good that'll be."
[Originally published in June, 2017.]
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