Server at Gus’s Diner who got $1,000 Christmas tip says she’ll never leave the restaurant

Callie Blue was waiting tables at Gus’s Diner in Sun Prairie on Sunday, as she does every Christmas Day.

There were few customers there at 6 am, so she was able to give one customer special attention and they talked through most of his meal.

As he was leaving, he gave her a $1,000 tip.

“He came in, he got breakfast, so it’s easy to chitchat with people when there’s not much going on at that time of the day,” said Blue, 29, who has worked at the diner for about five years.

She called the tip amazing and shocking and said she has a lot of year-end expenses to pay with the windfall, not least of which is keeping her four horses fed.

Blue spoke Monday while taking a break from the five- or six-hour chore of feeding her horses, boarded at a friend’s farm in Rio, with 18 other horses. She said she spends as much time with the horses as she does working.

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Blue grew up in Sun Prairie, but lives in DeForest, and said she makes a good living working at the diner, even without unexpectedly large tips. “I will never leave.”

That was Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County. He said he wasn’t using money from the club, but part of about $100,000 he brought in this year through the club’s Pay It Forward campaign that he’s been running for all 13 years that he’s led the organization.

The $100,000 raised in the fund came through direct cash and in-kind gifts, he said.

Every year the club asks for contributions so it can help people in need. “Usually hundreds and hundreds of people,” he said.

Johnson said this year the club had about 500 submissions from people needing help, or wanting to nominate someone in need, through a website that it created with the Black Men Coalition of Dane County.

Then, through his personal Facebook page, he said, he got about 400 requests from families explaining their challenges. He also got another 100 or so requests from community leaders recommending people. “And then, we just surprise folks,” he said.

‘She was everything’

Blue’s tip was in that surprise category. Johnson said about a year ago he heard from Paul Esser, the mayor of Sun Prairie, asking that he not forget the town, which has its own Boys and Girls Club.

Johnson said his schedule was booked on Christmas with families he was going to help starting at 7:30 am, so he Googled restaurants open at 6 am and found Gus’s Diner.

Coincidentally, he had gotten an email about Blue and how long she had worked there. “So, it kind of organically happened,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he was Blue’s second customer of the day and he was ready to criticize her customer service skills, and whether she was polite.

“And she was everything,” he said. “I walked in, she was smiling. She was happy to be there. We talked for about 45 minutes.”

Johnson said he had two donors who gave about $5,000 for tip money, so he gave her money from that pool.

On Christmas Eve, he said he gave Jared Grunert, a server at Red Lobster, $650. He said Grunert was working three jobs and recently recovered from a brain tumor. “He broke down and was crying and told me that his car from him had just broken down.”

Fund helped others

Johnson’s own Christmas Eve meal was a seafood broil prepared by a man who last year with his wife was helped with a house down payment by the Pay It Forward fund.

The fund helped first-time homebuyers Dwayne and Tia Malone, and their two children, with $200,000 of a $500,000 mortgage, plus furniture and a kitchen full of food.

Dwayne Malone has been a contracted custodian and handyman for the club the whole time Johnson has been there.

Most of the donations for the Malones’ house came from Boys & Girls Club board members who wanted to support the couple because of their work in the community. “Dwayne was the first person in his family to own a home at 52 years of age,” Johnson said.

This season, the club collected and gave out toys and gifts to 500 children through a relationship with Target stores that gives discounts from 10% to 40%. The club bought a new car for Martinez Ellis, a father of five and sheet metal worker without a reliable vehicle. It also sent pizza on Christmas Eve to a woman who sent Johnson a photo of her from her empty refrigerator from her.







Tip slip

The note Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, left with a $1,000 tip.


MICHAEL JOHNSON PHOTO


Johnson said the fund was able to pay for shopping sprees for 50 families and rental assistance for school employees and older adults dealing with hardships. It was also able to prevent a homeless mother and her toddler from sleeping in a car during the holiday cold snap.

He said some of his donors paid rent for people directly and some donors bought toys and paid Target and Walmart directly.

One example of an in-kind donation, Johnson said, was that Zimbrick discounted the car the club gave away.

The fund’s biggest contributor was someone who wished to remain anonymous and gave $20,000 for the car. The woman gave the same amount last year for a car. Johnson said John and Jo Ellen McKenzie gave $10,000 for the shopping sprees. John McKenzie owns McKenzie Apartment Company.

Johnson said that community leaders, including business owners and Boys and Girls Club staff, chose 95% of the recipients.

“People ask if I knew who Michael Johnson was when he came in,” Blue, the server at Gus’s, said. “I had no idea until he told me. Customer service is so important and no matter who you’re serving you should treat everyone the same.”

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