HOLLADAY — Arby's has just opened for the day and its star employee is slipping between booths, clearing crumbs left by the late-night crowd and darting behind the register.
She pauses to accept hugs and cards from fans.
At 94 years old, Dorothy Bale knows the restaurant and its customers better than most anyone. She has worked there for longer than some of her coworkers have been alive.
The choice to retire won't be her own, she said on Friday, her 25th anniversary in the chain restaurant located at a busy intersection in Holladay.
"I'm just going to go as long as they'll let me," she said, beaming. "I don't know what I'd do if I retired. I don't like to stay home."
Cici Salvador, who joined the shop four years ago as its manager, remembers meeting Bale for the first time and thinking, "She's old."
Her view of the great-grandmother changed quickly.
It may take customers a moment longer to order and pay when Bale mans the register and navigates the digital system, but many diners insist on it. Several rejected Salvador's early attempts to intervene and help them herself.
"It inspires a lot of people," Salvador said.
In other tasks, Bale dazzles coworkers with her agility.
Arlea Krauss, a former employee, said she once watched Bale clean up a mess made by group of teenagers in half the time any other worker could tackle it.
Bale, she said, is "spunky and good at her job."
The fast-food veteran explains it differently: "I like things nice and clean."
Bale's hustle has garnered attention from more than just coworkers and customers. In 2014, she was greeted by the company's CEO at a conference in Las Vegas and honored as the oldest employee of the company based in Atlanta, Georgia. She received an imitation of the 10-gallon hat featured in the restaurants' logo and sported it for a moment on Friday.
The hat was on display near her register, along with a cake covered in chocolate strawberries, a bright pink orchid and giant balloons.
The sign outside read "Happy 25th anniversary, Dorothy."
Her restaurant across from Olympus High School doubles as a cafeteria when students are released for lunch. One filed in after another on Friday, placing orders with Bale for fries, shakes and mozzarella sticks.
"She has more energy than the kids we have," said Chaelynn Rackley, area supervisor for the restaurant chain. "She just gets out there. She doesn't let anything slow her down."
And she is active outside of work, too. In warmer weather, she spends her time gardening or joining friends on the fairways at Nibley Park Golf Course.
Some customers might think Bale should be spending time with her great-grandchildren instead of in a low-wage job, but they would be missing the point, said Adam Raines, a regular customer who stopped in Friday to order sliders, mozzarella sticks and a milkshake for his children and wife.
"She's doing it because she loves it," he said.
The restaurant has churned through 21 managers and has twice been remodeled since Bale first walked in looking for a job. She sought to pass the time after the death of her husband, Dennis, a dentist whose office she managed for 23 years before a heart attack claimed his life.
"I decided 'I've got to go find a job,'" she recalled. "I have always been busy." Bale chose a new career at Arby's in part because the uniform — all black — wouldn't require a whole new wardrobe.
Bale started her first job at age 15 at a hamburger joint in her native Glenwood Springs, Colorado. She was a senior in high school when World War II erupted and later went to work in Utah's Ogden Arsenal. She returned to Colorado to take a post in the records department of a naval hospital, where she met Dennis Bale, a U.S. Navy corpsman.
On Friday, she welcomed the fanfare with a smile and hugs. When a group of high school boys began singing "Happy Birthday" to her as she spoke with a news crew, she rushed right toward them for a group embrace. Bale, who turns 95 in May, didn't consider correcting them.
For all her hours spent in the fast-food joint, she refrains from indulging in roast beef sandwiches and fries. Bale takes home a reuben with extra sauerkraut just once a month.5 comments on this story
Over the years, she has pared down from a five-day work week to just three shifts that run from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., commuting from her home a mile away in a white Ford sedan. Some customers only stop in the restaurant if they spot the car in northeast corner of the parking lot.
Her friend Pattie Owens, 92, visited Bale at work Friday, delivering a newspaper clipping that chronicled her pal's career.
"You're not working today, you're just having fun," Owens teased. "Good girl, you deserve it. You're something else."
"I am something else," Bale quipped. "Twenty-five years."
"I feel good," she added. "That's the most important."