40 Years of Pancakes & Pie: Eau Claire’s Greg Kotecki has made a career at Perkins

Katy Macek, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

AN UPPER CRUST CAREER. Greg Kotecki has worked at Perkins for 40 years, most of them in Eau Claire.
AN UPPER CRUST CAREER. Greg Kotecki has worked at Perkins for 40 years, most of them in Eau Claire.

When Greg Kotecki started working as a busboy at Perkins Pancake House (it was called that at the time) in 1976, the restaurant had a credit card book where cashiers had to look up credit card numbers to make sure they were still active.

Those books had to be used two or three times a day at the most. Just about everyone paid with cash or a check. An order of pancakes cost 75 cents, and a cup of coffee was 15 cents.

The books are long gone, but Kotecki, now general manager of the Perkins Restaurant at 2025 Highland Ave., Eau Claire, has never seen more credit cards. The restaurant doesn’t accept checks anymore, and one cup of coffee is $2.39 (an order of pancakes is $7.99, if you’re keeping score).

Kotecki celebrated 40 years at the restaurant on Oct. 31, which was the same day the restaurant marked the same number years in business. He began his career bussing tables on Day One, and has remained faithful to Perkins ever since.

“I was a 16-year-old kid who had been a paper boy and figured I’d try something different,” Kotecki said.

The job took him through high school as a busboy and server, and into college as a cook and assistant manager. When they offered him a manager position at a restaurant on the south side of Chicago, he knew this was going to be his career.

However, after three years in the Windy City, he and his wife decided to move back to Eau Claire to raise their children. But he remained faithful to his job, always happy to be in the restaurant.

“Working restaurants, it’s always something new,” he said. “There’s never a typical routine, which means it’s never boring.”

Kotecki received Perkins’ General Manager of the Year award this year. While he appreciates the recognition, he said it has a lot to do with the close-knit staff, many of whom have been around nearly as long as he has.

He remembers at least two of the waitresses started around the same time he did in high school.

“There’s a waitress who’s been here 39 years, another woman close to 40 years, and my assistant manager has worked with me for 35 years,” Kotecki said. “All of us bond together, and that’s why everyone stays. You’re pretty much family when you’ve been together that long.”

Many of the customers have been coming in for nearly as long. That’s why Kotecki said it’s the people who make this job so rewarding. As he provides them a good meal, he learns about each of their lives. The combination, he said, means you can’t go wrong.

“This job is different because you can get instant gratification 500 times a day,” he said. “Anytime anyone comes in and gets something to eat and is happy, you get that reassurance.”

As far as working in a restaurant that vows to be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Kotecki said he typically enjoys it, despite the 70-hour workweeks when it’s busy. Even working weekends doesn’t bother him. But his least favorite time of year is the holidays. Kotecki admits his wife has sacrificed a lot, and he doesn’t enjoy being away from his family for Christmas. Those long weeks take a toll, and as much as Kotecki has loved his 40 years with the restaurant, he’s not sure how many more years he’ll be able to spend on his feet for the majority of his shift.

That doesn’t mean he’s throwing in the towel completely, though. He still wants to do something, maybe even remain at Perkins.

“I’ll probably do this another five years, but then I’m going to work a normal job,” he said. “Maybe I’ll become the baker, bake all the pies – that sounds easy.”