BETTENDORF — Tina Martzahn has spent her whole career working for Ross' Restaurant, the 24-hour diner that's a local institution. The 41-year-old waitress typically serves customers when most of the world is sleeping, during third shift.
“I actually like this shift — the 12 hours Friday and Saturday,” she says of weekend hours of 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., or to 3 a.m., depending on how busy the restaurant is. “I enjoy it. I'm a night person; I'm not a day person. I'm not as bubbly in the day. It just works for me.”
In addition to weekends, Martzahn works 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and usually she's the only server on that shift. On weekends, there's a second server on third shift.
“It doesn't get too busy; I've never been so busy that I couldn't handle it, where I got overwhelmed,” she says, noting the longtime former Ross' location next to the Interstate 74 bridge was busier. That building was torn down in 2015 to make way for the new bridge, and the restaurant moved to 2297 Falcon Ave. in Bettendorf.
“I still miss the old place. I was there for so long. I have memories there,” says Martzahn, who's worked for Ross' for 22 years. “It was fun there, a lot more homey there."
She was there when former Vice President Joe Biden visited, and she also got to meet rocker Eddie Money. She wasn't working when President Barack Obama visited Ross' on June 28, 2011.
The old Ross' building, at 430 14th St. in Bettendorf, opened in 1966. Founder Harold Ross opened his first restaurant in 1938 at 333 14th St., Bettendorf. The current restaurant, off 53rd Avenue and 18th Street in Bettendorf, is more than twice the size of the old one. It opened in October 2015 in a building that formerly housed Frank’s Pizza.
The gig at Ross' was the first waitressing job for Martzahn, who went to United Township High School in East Moline. She worked at Hardee's in East Moline and as a dishwasher at Village Inn on Moline's 1st Street during high school.
She started working at Ross' on second shift, and she moved to third about six months later. “They needed help on third one night, and just never moved me back,” she says. “Then it just got to be it was easier. My husband, he started on second and moved to third shift, so it just was easier for us.”
Martzahn met her husband, Joseph, 20 years ago, when he was a cook. They will celebrate their 11th anniversary in May. He left Ross' two years ago and now is a re-seller through eBay and Amazon, working out of their Bettendorf home.
When they had kids — their daughters are 12 and 8 — he moved to second shift “so one of us was always home with the kids,” Martzahn says, noting second shift usually runs from 3 to 11 p.m.
Her sleep schedule is all over the place, Martzahn says. During the week, after work she gets her kids up, takes them to school, and sleeps usually from 9 a.m. to 1:30 or 2:30 p.m., and picks up her kids at 3.
“I try to keep my sleep schedule the same on my days off, so it doesn't get screwy,” Martzahn says. On the weekends, “I'm not one who can go home and go right to bed. I will lie there and toss and turn. If I get off at 3, I'll be asleep by 5, if I get off at 5, I'll be in bed by 7. I don't have to get up on the weekends right away. I call those my catch-up days. I function pretty good on five hours of sleep because my body's used to that.”
At the restaurant, she sees a lot of regulars. One, on a recent Saturday after midnight, got his regular macaroni and cheese topped with buffalo chicken bites, which is not on the menu. The buffalo bites and mac and cheese separately are on the menu.
“I've made a lot of good friends working here,” Martzahn says. “It's fun; I've enjoyed it. I've met a lot of interesting people. I've made a lot of great friends.”
“It's like a family here; a lot of us have worked quite a few years together,” Martzahn says.
She's responsible for washing dishes Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and if she's not serving customers, Martzahn typically cleans tables.
“This is the only exercise I get,” she says. “I've never been one on exercising, I guess. I get plenty of walking in here. There's a lot of walking to do when you're a server.”
After taking each order, waitresses enter them on a touch screen, which has a screen for every item on the menu, and buttons representing a variety of options for them. That's printed out for cooks in the kitchen, who then yell out the server's name when it's ready.
The Magic Mountain is a favorite of Ross' customers. It features Texas toast topped by loose ground beef and a choice of hash browns or fries. It's smothered in cheese sauce and optional “snow” (chopped onions). The Volcano is topped with spicy chili. The Cockadoodle Doo Mountain is a close second choice, Martzahn says. It's a biscuit with scrambled eggs and sausage gravy, topped with chicken tenders.
“It's super good — that's my favorite,” she says, noting she usually splits it with the other server. “The Magic, I serve so many of those. Most people finish it, but that's too much for me.”
A favorite desert is the “OMG” cake — a chocolate vegan cake. “It's so good,” she says. “It's one of the best chocolate cakes you'll ever have. It's rich, but it's super good.”
Liquor is on the menu, but not much is sold, Martzahn says. The old restaurant didn't have a liquor license. “I don't think people see Ross' as a place to go drink,” Martzahn says.
Most of her customers are good tippers. “Drunk people, it can go either way — they'll tip you either real good or not at all,” she says.
“It's an important part for a server, because that's half of our income,” Martzahn says of tips. Her base salary is below minimum wage at under $5 an hour.
When Martzahn goes out to other restaurants, she appreciates what waitresses have to do. “If my food isn't right, I know it's not the server's fault,” she says. “I don't take it out on them. They've got a job to do, and mistakes happen.”