Juana Ramirez celebrates 40 years at iconic Blue Bonnet Cafe
After immigrating from Mexico in 1982 at 22 years old, Juana Ramirez found herself at the front door of Blue Bonnet Café looking for a job.
“I just wanted to work and make money,” she said.
Forty years later, Ramirez is making customers smile with her tasty treats and wonderful service.
No stranger to hard work, she prefers a busy day over a slow one.
“I like to work when there’s a lot of people,” Ramirez said. “That’s because I always have something to do. Whenever it’s not busy, I feel a little bit lazy.”
During her lengthy time at the cafe, she has witnessed its growth from a local staple to a world-famous eatery.
“Over time, the restaurant has kept improving,” Ramirez said. “Whenever I first started, there was only a little bit of customers and people working. But over time, it has kept expanding.”
In the food service world, working for the same restaurant for 40 years is unprecedented. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the median tenure of food service employees is 1.6 years with 75 percent leaving their job within the first year.
Blue Bonnet Cafe has flipped that trend. Currently, it has 25 employees who have worked its tables and counter for a decade or more. Five have 30 years’ experience: Susie DeLaHoya, Pamela Moore, Sherlyn Harper, Jenny Beuerhausen, and Maura Domingues.
When she started in 1982, Ramirez was the first Blue Bonnet employee hired after Belinda and John Kemper purchased the cafe the year before. Forty years later, the restaurant has employed 662 people, and all have gotten to know Ramirez.
Current Blue Bonnet Café owners Lindsay and David Plante could not be happier with the job she has done for four decades.
“She’s such a role model for all of our staff,” David Plante said. “When Juana speaks in the kitchen, everyone quiets down. When Juana says she needs something, everyone is getting her what she needs. It’s pretty amazing.”
Assigned with cooking omelets while serving the many guests the restaurant feeds each day, Ramirez is a valuable resource for other cafe employees.
“She’s an anchor in the kitchen,” Lindsay Plante said. “She holds it all together. She helps everyone get things together. She means a lot to us.”
For Ramirez, cooking is a safe haven. Her mother died when she was a young girl in Mexico. The oldest of a family of five, Ramirez was tasked with preparing meals for her entire household.
Today, she continues to use her cooking to show appreciation for loved ones.
“She’s an unbelievable cook,” Lindsay Plante said. “She shows her love for everybody through food. Even when she’s not working here, she’s making lots of food for her family and hosting parties with food.”
Much of the food Ramirez cooks in the cafe’s kitchen isn’t enjoyed by patrons but by the staff. Instead of the homestyle food Blue Bonnet is famous for, she cooks traditional Mexican meals for herself and fellow employees.
“There’s a lot of cooking she does in the back of the kitchen that never comes out to the front,” Lindsay Plante said with a laugh. “She always makes tortillas and tacos, all sorts of things.”
In June 2019, the diner hired Ramirez’s only child, son Pedro. David Plante still remembers when Pedro was a toddler, wreaking havoc in the Blue Bonnet kitchen.
“When I started working here 18 years ago, Juana would pick (Pedro) up after school,” he said. “He would come, probably at 3 or 4 years old, and come in and jump on the bags of flour.”
After four decades of service, the seasoned Blue Bonnet veteran has no plans of slowing down.
“This was my first and only job,” Ramirez said. “I don’t think I’ll ever leave.”