Marlene Hettver

Longtime restaurant manager Marlene Hettver is looking forward to having her weekends off.

After working at Country Kitchen for more than 46 years, manager Marlene Hettver has probably tried almost everything on the menu.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite,” she said. “I think the breakfasts — the skillet breakfasts. There’s the skillet scramble and the farm skillet. I cannot eat them every day, but when I want to treat myself, I usually go for those.”

The longtime manager will soon be retiring after working at Country Kitchen since it first opened back in 1972. At the time, it was Hutchinson’s first franchise business in the area. Hettver, who was originally a cook for the A&W Drive In, came to work there since her manager at A&W also was the new owner at Country Kitchen. She was 18 years old at the time.

“I had just graduated high school and the guy who built it (Country Kitchen) asked me to join their team,” Hettver said.

When the restaurant first opened, the menu featured only seven breakfast items that had funny names. They relied heavily on vehicle traffic coming across State Highway 7 since most businesses were on the southside of town. The building was also only half the size it is now.

“It was real family-friendly,” she said. “The people that came in here were repeat business, and we built upon local Hutchinson.” She cooked at the restaurant for a number of years before eventually working toward managerial responsibilities. As a result, she got to know all the positions within the restaurant.

“A waitress would call-in and there’d be no one to call, so I’d just go take tables,” Hettver said.

As the years went on, the building would change hands multiple times and gain many different owners. Each new owner would bring something they thought was important to focus on for the customers, but when old owners left it would leave a hole that needed to be filled by someone new.

“When Matt (Woeffel, Country Kitchen's owner, operator) went to the Ground Round in 2013 that’s when I became a full manager,” she said.

For working there as long as she has, one has to wonder how much the business has transformed since its inception. Hettver said the biggest change has been the evolution of the clientele that come in.

“Back then people were just happy to go out to eat,” she said. “Now the expectation is real high standards. They have many, many choices of where to go, so you have to compete with everybody.”

The one thing that hasn’t changed has been a commitment to providing a good, friendly dining experience for customers, but with the change in customers came with less desirable things.

“Today the people are feeling everyone owes them a good thing,” Hettver said. “Back then they were just thankful — ‘Thank you for waiting on us,’ but now the world is so demanding. Part of that is of course the economy and the cost of living versus wages. They don’t level out.”

When she fully retires, the one thing she says she will miss the most is the people she works with and the friends she’s made. The customers she meets at Country Kitchen will sometimes run into her at the grocery store or somewhere else in Hutchinson, but she’s looking forward to having her weekends all to herself.

“I think it’s time to start spending time with my family,” Hettver said. “We’ll do trips, and I like to go baseball games. This is a weekend business so I’m going to find out what weekends are all about.”

After working at Country Kitchen for more than 46 years, manager Marlene Hettver has probably tried almost everything on the menu.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite,” she said. “I think the breakfasts — the skillet breakfasts. There’s the skillet scramble and the farm skillet. I cannot eat them every day, but when I want to treat myself, I usually go for those.”

The longtime manager will soon be retiring after working at Country Kitchen since it first opened back in 1972. At the time, it was Hutchinson’s first franchise business in the area. Hettver, who was originally a cook for the A&W Drive In, came to work there since her manager at A&W also was the new owner at Country Kitchen. She was 18 years old at the time.

“I had just graduated high school and the guy who built it (Country Kitchen) asked me to join their team,” Hettver said.

When the restaurant first opened, the menu featured only seven breakfast items that had funny names. They relied heavily on vehicle traffic coming across State Highway 7 since most businesses were on the southside of town. The building was also only half the size it is now.

“It was real family-friendly,” she said. “The people that came in here were repeat business, and we built upon local Hutchinson.”

She cooked at the restaurant for a number of years before eventually working toward managerial responsibilities. As a result, she got to know all the positions within the restaurant.

“A waitress would call-in and there’d be no one to call, so I’d just go take tables,” Hettver said.

As the years went on, the building would change hands multiple times and gain many different owners. Each new owner would bring something they thought was important to focus on for the customers, but when old owners left it would leave a hole that needed to be filled by someone new.

“When Matt (Hettver’s old manager) went to the Ground Round in 2013 that’s when I became a full manager,” she said.

One has to wonder how much Hettver has seen the business transform since its inception. Hettver said the biggest change has been the evolution of the clientele that come in.

“Back then people were just happy to go out to eat,” she said. “Now the expectation is real high standards. They have many, many choices of where to go, so you have to compete with everybody.”

The one thing that hasn’t changed has been a commitment to providing a good, friendly dining experience for customers, but with the change in customers came with less desirable things.

“Today the people are feeling everyone owes them a good thing,” Hettver said. “Back then they were just thankful — ‘Thank you for waiting on us,’ but now the world is so demanding. Part of that is of course the economy and the cost of living versus wages. They don’t level out.”

When she fully retires, the one thing she says she will miss the most is the people she works with and the friends she’s made. The customers she meets at Country Kitchen will sometimes run into her at the grocery store or somewhere else in Hutchinson, but she’s looking forward to having her weekends all to herself.

“I think it’s time to start spending time with my family,” Hettver said. “We’ll do trips, and I like to go baseball games. This is a weekend business so I’m going to find out what weekends are all about.”

Recommended for you