By Kim West
Curley Harris doesn’t hesitate when asked if she can pinpoint the exact date she embarked on a career that has spanned nearly two decades at the Krystal restaurant in Athens.
Harris, 50, has been churning out the iconic Krystal mini-sandwiches since August 21, 1995, and she hasn’t stopped since the 24-hour eatery opened near the then-sparsely populated Interstate 65 overpass.
David Carey, the restaurant’s general manager, surprised the lady known as “Miss Curley” by inducting her into the Krystal Maker Hall of Fame on Thursday for “18 years of caring service to the Athens community.”
Carey said he conservatively estimated Harris has made more than 4 million Krystals, which would weigh more than 111 tons and cover 157 miles if placed end to end.
“Curley has been through five different general managers at our restaurant, and three sets of company ownership. When it comes to change, she has grabbed it and embraced it,” said Carey, who has worked for the past 15 years at the Athens franchise. The restaurant is now owned by Cullman-based Integrity Restaurant Group, which operates eight franchises.
Harris, a 1982 Tanner High School graduate, said she has worked alongside more than 2,000 employees. She said she urges her coworkers to push past the stress of working in a small kitchen under constant and sometimes noisy supervision.
“I can work with anybody as long as you talk to me right, and if someone isn’t (being respectful), I can just look over that and keep doing my job,” said Harris, as she sat at one of the restaurant’s small tables in her customary apron and still wearing her drive-thru headset. “In this business, you have to be like that. I always say to ignore (any negativity). If you want to keep a job, you have to keep your head up and don’t pay attention to that.”
Harris, an energetic woman who is quick to smile but serious when it comes to running the kitchen, has worked the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. second shift since she started working for Krystal. Carey said her work ethic and ability to adapt has made her invaluable.
“Curley has a good personality, and she is old-school because she always gets the job done,” Carey said. “She sets a good example to our younger workers because she believes in doing her work first and playing later. She is a good person, and we are lucky to have her.”
Harris, whose mother, twin sister, 26-year-old daughter and 3-year-old granddaughter also live in Athens, said Carey and her co-workers caught her off-guard when they presented her with a plaque and announced her hall of fame induction.
“They really surprised me, and David said this was their way of showing me how much they loved me,” said Harris, who enjoys shopping, walking, going to the park and housecleaning when she isn’t training new employees or cooking breakfast biscuits and Krystal Chiks. “I like the people I work with, and I don’t have plans to retire anytime soon.”