Walking into The Barn, customers have a hard time missing Karen Ojala.
As a waitress at the Brainerd cafe for the past three years, Ojala has served up Maid Rites, coffee and pie five days a week -- always with a kind word and an ever-present smile.
And after 12 years as a waitress at various restaurants, it's a career Ojala hopes to never leave.
"I've tried a few things in between, but I always go back," to waitressing, Ojala said. "I love it. I love the people. This is a the place I would like to stay as long as possible."
A life-long Brainerd resident, the 38-year-old Ojala began her waitressing career at the age of 16 at LJ's, a small cafe which was located at the site of the current Tower Motors in north Brainerd. After that she spent 12 years at West Side Cafe and, before coming to The Barn, at KatiAnn's Diner in south Brainerd.
In between she has tried different jobs and going to college, but always preferred her waitressing jobs, she said. She also has raised her three children; 17-year-old Luke, 14-year-old Brad and 13-year-old Charolette.
Hobbies: Bingo, bowling and spending time with her three children. "They are wonderful. They're the best."
Ideal job: Her current job of waitressing. "I've tried other stuff but this is it. Of course I'd like to be Donald Trump. Everyone would."
Favorite television show: None. "I used to watch 'Quantum Leap,' but that's not even on anymore. I'm not a TV person. I don't watch."
Last movie seen in a theater: "Meet the Fockers," though she prefers suspense movies.
Ideal trip: A Caribbean cruise. "I'd love to go on a cruise, probably because I've been just about everywhere in the world except on a cruise."
Favorite meal: "I just lost 53 pounds, so I don't eat anymore. But if I had to chose, it would be a cheeseburger with fried onions and onion rings. It's been a long time since I have had one of those, though."
Most proud moment: The birth of her three children.
Over the years she had tried many times to get a waitressing job at The Barn, but no one ever left their employment there, she said. When a waitress became ill, Ojala said she was one of many people who sent in applications.
"I got lucky," she said of getting the position.
The Barn has been the perfect fit, she said. She said not only are her co-workers like family but so are most of the customers.
"We know everybody by name and I think that's why people come in," Ojala said. "Some say we should make the cafe bigger, but people like this small niche."
About six months ago Ojala's family at The Barn grew when her sister, Loretta Davis, was hired. Ojala said like herself, Davis' hiring at The Barn was a bit of luck. She said her sister had just quit her job and there happened to be a rare opening at the cafe.
"It was like destiny," Ojala said. The sisters had previously worked together at West Side Cafe.
Ojala described Davis as her best friend. About seven or eight years ago they both traveled to California to appear on "The Price is Right." However, they never got to hear their names attached to that famous phrase, "Come on down"
"We did awful. We didn't believe it," Ojala joked. "But it was still fun."
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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