When you drive into Carroll County you’re greeted by a sign that says, “Feel Right at Home.”
Customers at Baugher’s Restaurant in Westminster did just that for more than 50 years thanks in large part to former waitress Joan Orem.
“Baugher’s is not just a restaurant,” said Frank Dawson, who’s gone to the country-style restaurant almost every day for the last 15 years. “It’s a home ... a family.
“Joan was the matriarch of the family.”
Orem died at her home in Westminster on June 17. She was 64. A funeral service will be held for Orem on Thursday, June 21, at 11 a.m. at the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home at 91 Willis St. in Westminster.
Regulars knew her and she knew them, about their personal lives, Dawson said, “She treated her customers like we were all part of her family.”
Some would wait in line for Orem’s section to open.
Orem’s regular customers “would actually call in and say: ‘Don’t worry, I’m not coming in today. I have a doctor’s appointment,’ ” said Kay Ripley, a part-owner of Baugher’s who worked beside Orem for the better part of four decades. “She was almost a fill-in family member for them because she worked six days a week [at the restaurant] for so long.”
“She had such a love of her job, her customers that she genuinely liked to serve,” Ripley continued in a phone interview with the Times.
And after recently having celebrated 50 years working at Baugher’s, it’s clear her absence will leave a void for those who frequent the Carroll County staple.
Wayne Barnes said he visits the restaurant almost every Friday, and sometimes on Tuesdays. He meets up with a group of friends for breakfast and they joke that their gatherings are the Baugher’s board meetings. It’s been a tradition of Barnes’ life for at least 10 years.
“Sometimes I would come in and my Pepsi would be waiting for me at the counter,” Barnes said, suggesting that Orem, who he called a “super waitress,” left drinks in anticipation of the Friday gang’s arrival.
Orem knew her customers by name, and memorized most of their favorite drink and food orders, Barnes and Ripley said.
“She’d always say, ‘You want the regular?’ ” Barnes added.
She had a sharp memory, never writing anything down, said Ann Chamberlain and Dora Lee Eyler, who go to Baugher’s for pancakes every Wednesday after a trip to the mall. She even ordered for customers who couldn’t decide.
Ripley said sometimes she’d be waitressing an adjacent section and some of her customers wouldn’t know what they wanted. “Go ask Joan what we’re having,” Ripley said customers told her. “Joan would go look at the specials menu and say, ‘Give her the soup; give him this.’ ”
But she was more than a waitress — the job she dedicated six days a week to for more than 50 years. She was beloved because she connected with people.
“I always enjoyed when it wasn’t super busy and she would come sit at the counter and talk,” Barnes said, admitting that it was a rare occurrence because Orem’s section was usually buzzing.
“She was extremely good to work with,” Ripley said, noting that she handled her bustling section with ease and guile. “She was unflappable, no matter what business threw at her.”
Even after the 50-year Baugher’s veteran was diagnosed with lung cancer, “she carried her weight,” Ripley told the Times. “She missed very little work.”
There were times during her fight with cancer that her faithful customers and longtime colleagues knew she shouldn’t be at work because of her health, Dawson said. “But we were her support mechanism,” he said.
“Her world was Baugher’s,” said Lynda Martin, a waitress at the restaurant who worked with Orem for 17 years.
So it was no surprise that when Ripley arranged a reception for Orem when she could no longer work that hundreds attended the two-hour event at the restaurant.
“She just had this twinkle in her eyes,” Ripley said. “Pretty blue eyes.”
Even when it got busy, Orem maintained her “quick giggle,” as she shuffled about her section of tables, Ripley said, noting that Orem will be missed at Baugher’s, where she had become “a Carroll County icon,” and also by her family.