By Ashleigh / May 19, 2021
For the two and a half years that she’d worked there as the manager, the old man had come into the Arby’s alone every single day without fail.
Eventually, she had to know why he only ever ate the same thing at the restaurant, and his reply had the entire community reaching for their checkbooks.
Manager Christina Gamage could set her watch by 97-year-old Doug Parker’s lunch schedule. The decorated veteran turns up at the Arizona Arby’s restaurant every single day at the same time, sits in the same seat, and orders the same thing.
Christina had become friendly with many of the regulars, but Doug was different – and after serving him for so long, she had to know why.
There were plenty of customers who were clearly huge fans of Arby’s food, but Mr. Doug – as he is affectionately known by staff – not only eats there every day, he eats the exact same food.
“He comes in with a walker, as soon as we see him come to the doors, we try [to] grab the doors for him,” Christina said. But despite treating him well, she still didn’t know the full story.
One afternoon, when Mr. Doug came in and sat at the same table that he always sits at, Christina simply had to know why he was always alone and what it was that brought him there every single day.
But it would still take a few weeks to get Mr. Doug to open up to the staff at Arby’s. But they never expected this answer.
Soon, all the staff at Arby’s were speculating as to why Mr. Doug ordered the exact same items every day. They were all burning to know why.
“He’s gone through a lot being a veteran and living in a retirement home. And he doesn’t have family,” said Christina, sadly. But that doesn’t explain the fact that he never deviates from his usual order.
Mr. Doug orders a roast beef slider with swiss cheese and a Coca-Cola with no ice for his lunch every day.
“Hey, Mr. Doug,” Christina finally began to ask after serving his lunch. “We just want to know what keeps you coming back to this Arby’s location?” And his answer wasn’t simply that they made tasty sandwiches.
“This is the only place I can get a sandwich that doesn’t hurt my stomach,” Mr. Doug replied.
Christina was floored to hear that Mr. Doug had been suffering so much and that he simply had to come to Arby’s for his health. She was determined to do something to help – and she wasn’t the only one.
Regular customers like Mr. Doug are considered family at the Chandler Arby’s, so when the team heard the pensioner’s story, the word soon got out.
Travis Coye, a fellow Arby’s employee, said, “He’s expressed to us multiple times that we’re like his family, and we feel that ourselves so we try to make him feel welcome in any way possible.”
They Had To Be Careful
Christina took her regular customer’s needs very seriously – she even tried to be extra careful about briefing all new employees about Mr. Doug’s special dietary requirements and making sure his order was always exactly the same.
Little did she know, her staff had other plans. It was only a matter of time before something slipped through.
If he didn’t come to the Arby’s, Mr. Doug might be forced to eat something that would likely trigger his stomach disorder. And neither Christina – nor his fellow diners – were going to stand for that.
So they were in agreement, they had to make sure the war hero – who lived on a fixed income – always had a hot sandwich when he needed one. But when one patron caught a waiter slipping something extra into Mr. Doug’s meal, she almost choked.
Slipping Something In
Ethel Fishman, a regular who knew Mr. Doug, had a hunch about one of the young waiters working at Arby’s. But, one afternoon, what she saw him slipping into Mr. Doug’s usual order left her completely dumbstruck.
The waiter looked around furtively – but he had no idea that Ethel was watching everything.
Ethel could only guess what the waiter had done by watching his face, which was turned down intently as she prepared Mr. Doug’s usual sandwich. Then, his eyes darted around quickly — as if to see if anyone was watching.
Ethel wasn’t one to let something like this go, so she quietly pulled out her phone. She could never have known that one moment caught on camera would have such far-reaching repercussions for everyone involved…
Ethel, making sure that her cameraphone’s flash was off, snapped the evidence she needed – the photos that would make both the server and Arby’s Facebook-famous.
Although her view was partially obscured, she saw the waiter hurriedly slip something red into the Arby’s paper bag. But she didn’t have to wait long to find out what it was. Soon, everyone would know what the server had done.
Checking His Order
The elderly man sat still as he waited for his meal — he too had his eyes on the waiter in anticipation. His breathing quickened slightly as he pushed the bag towards him.
Although Ethel couldn’t see his face, she saw the waiter crack a smile as Mr. Doug checked his order.
Mr. Doug began to eat his roast beef sandwich while the waiter hovered around the table. Mr. Doug seemed confused, but he hadn’t realized that reporters had crowded into the establishment.
He looked inside the bag his order had come in to check that the waiter hadn’t missed anything and noticed the piece of red card rattling around in the bottom.
Sharing The Evidence
Then, Ethel heard Mr. Doug say something that made tears well behind her eyes. She picked the clearest photo on her phone and wrote the post. Then, she hit ‘share.’
She had only just asked her server for the bill when her phone began to ping furiously. Whether they liked it or not, Arby’s was now famous. There was no undoing it. What had they done?
Mr. Doug, just realizing that there were reporters recording his reaction, pulled out the card. He thought it was some kind of joke at first. Then, he slowly realized what the staff at Arby’s had done.
And when it dawned on him that the act of generosity was actually real, he said: “Thank you. I never know if I’ll be here the next day, but thank you so much for this!”
The staff had decided to pool their spare cash and slipped a $200 Arby’s gift card into Mr. Doug’s order so he could save the little money he had.
But when the Arby’s head office heard what the kind-hearted people of Chandler had done for Mr. Doug, they got in touch for a serious discussion with manager Christina about the unorthodox gesture.
“We try to go above and beyond for him because he needs the extra love,” Christina said of the way staff at that particular restaurant had cared for Mr. Doug. Mr. Doug also had a few mental health issues due to time spent in the army, which were only exacerbated by his age.
The head office understood that the veteran was a very important part of the community in Chandler, so decided to take things a big step further.
Grateful for Mr. Doug’s service during the war, Arby’s decided that the veteran would never pay for a roast beef slider or Coca-Cola ever again.
The restaurant chain gave Mr. Doug a lifetime’s worth of free lunches and surprised him with the news when he came in for his regular meal. And his reaction was priceless.
“He was shocked,” Christina said. “He was absolutely speechless.” Christina and Travis personally told Mr. Doug that he wouldn’t have to worry about finding the money for his lunch anymore.
ABC 15 Arizona
But when journalists caught up with Mr. Doug, it turned out he did have some kind things to say about the people looking out for him.
Treated Like Royalty
Mr. Doug said the restaurant’s staff always do their best to keep his table free for him, even though he’s quite happy eating at the next table over.
“Anything I need, they give it to me,” Mr. Doug said of the hospitality at Arby’s, before adding his review of their food. “It’s just so satisfying.” But the VIP customer gets much more than free food.
Ready And Waiting
Knowing that he always orders the same thing, staff have Mr. Doug’s meal ready and waiting for him when he arrives.
Everyone that works there knows that when his gift card runs out, Mr. Doug is still entitled to food on the house – even if he isn’t able to come into the restaurant personally to eat it.
Employees have even given Mr. Doug their personal phone numbers so if he’s feeling unwell, he can call them directly and someone will deliver his favorite meal right to his door.
And now Mr. Doug’s story has spread throughout the community, prompting others to show their gratitude to the veteran and offer him even more free services.
Mr. Doug was well-liked in the community, so staff and diners at the Chandler Arby’s couldn’t have been happier to hear that head office had granted him food for life.
And when a local optometrist heard about how the Arby’s staff were looking after a veteran, he had to come and see what was going on with his own eyes.
After hearing that Mr. Doug could use a little help, the local eye doctor came by the restaurant to give the aging diner’s vision a full check-up completely free of charge.
And when he saw that his prescription needed an upgrade, the kind optometrist even offered Mr. Doug a free pair of glasses, which he gratefully accepted.
Arby’s For Life
Christina was over the moon to hear of more businesses stepping up to help Mr. Doug, believing it’s only right for veterans to be given a helping hand when they sacrificed so much to fight for their country.
“Let’s give him Arby’s for life!” Christina said without hesitation, despite the obvious repeat business she stands to lose. “I have no problem with that.”
Arby’s has been recognized by veteran group Run for the Wall for everything they have done for Mr. Doug, but Christina insists that just helping him out is reward enough.
Time & Date
“It was truly an honor,” she said. “There are so many amazing stories about our veterans and I thank them for everything they’ve done for us!”
The world caught wind of Mr. Doug’s story when a photo that fellow diner Daniel Maloney posted online went viral.
Michael W Travels
He had been eating at the Chandler Arby’s with his mother that day when he witnessed staff presenting Mr. Doug with the $200 coupon, before the restaurant decided to give him food for life. And he couldn’t help but capture and share the moment.
“We really enjoy you here and we always want you to come back,” Daniel reported Arby’s staff as saying to Mr. Doug when they broke the news to him that lunchtime.
“There are so many good people in the world,” Maloney wrote on Facebook. “These employees selflessly put in their own money, so an elderly man could come in and enjoy dinner on what he never knew could be his last.”
Taking It To Facebook
Although Daniel wasn’t the only one who had seen the act of kindness and decided to post on Facebook about it, it was his post that garnered the most reactions.
And after he shared the video and images on Facebook, there were plenty of other people who thought the story was heartwarming and worth celebrating.
“This makes me happy. We should be doing more for our veterans,” said Facebook user Nancy Tucker. Ofelia Lacaba added, “Wow! Love this news!! Thank you, Mr. Doug, for your service, and thank you, Arby’s, for what you did and are still are doing for him! God bless you all!”
Another Facebook user wrote: “I love EVERYTHING about this!! A man that has served his country well, now strangers are making his life a little easier. This is how everyone should treat each other. Why not? If we all truly cared for each other, we’d be a MUCH happier country. Compassion.”
Thanking A Hero
“What a wonderfully uplifting story. Thank you for your service, Doug. I’ve always loved Arby’s and I’ll probably like them more now. So good to know that there are still great, caring young people with big hearts. Keep up the good work kids.”
And the positivity continued to pour in – many more users wanted to thank Mr. Doug for his service.
“Aww, awesome story thank you for sharing!! Always grateful for a Veteran!! Thank you Arby’s and staff for making this Veteran’s day everyday!! Sir thank you for your service!!!” another comment gushed.
And another: “What a great story to tell the world. This veteran deserves this and so much more. Thank you Arby’s for showing him respect and kindness. These are rare qualities in our world now.”
“God Bless you Doug, thank you for your service and loyalty. There are still a lot of good people out there! To the staff, good for you! It means the world to the “Dougs” out there who still need and crave the human touch and to feel that they still matter and have something to look forward to!” another user wrote.
Several others reached out to say what a wonderful story it was. One commenter even shared a personal story that made the story especially dear to his heart.
“My dad was a WWII and Korea veteran. He would have been 94 this year. This story hits home because he loved Arby’s. He said it wasn’t fast food but was a real meal.”
Wide Open Eats
He added, “Thank you for your service!” But not every Facebook commenter thought the story was such good news. Some were only capable of pointing out the negative.
Pelle Stellato suggested that Arby’s were getting more out of the bargain than they were letting on, saying “it would cost Arby’s more money in advertising than feeding him for life. Great business plan, pick the oldest guy in town, give him free food for life, and in return get massive advertising.”
The Grumpy Old Fart Customer
Similarly, Watson Joe felt that Arby’s shouldn’t have sought so much publicity over a good deed: “Why have the news announce it? Do kind acts because you want to, not because you want your 15 minutes of fame…”
However, Arby’s is known for supporting veterans and even offers free roast beef sandwiches to America’s heroes on Veterans Day.
Jeff Davis, United States Beef chief executive officer, said, “This country is so blessed to have such courageous and dedicated men and women willing to serve our country and defend our freedom. Feeding them on Veterans Day is just a small token of our appreciation, but we wanted them to know we’re thinking of them and supporting their mission.”
The Respect He Deserves
Mr. Doug may struggle with several health issues and has no family left, but Arby’s has gone out of their way to show him the respect he deserves.
Mr. Doug has been largely forgotten since risking his life for America and the world back in the 1940s, but the Arizona Arby’s staff has done what the government should have done long ago – they adopted him as part of their family!
Ten More Years
Now that Mr. Doug has a lifetime’s supply of sandwiches available to him, one journalist joked that the 97-year-old would need to live another 10 years to get the most use out of it.
“Well, wouldn’t that be nice,“ Mr. Doug replied, smiling. Here’s hoping the veteran enjoys every sandwich he’s got coming to him! But, not all patrons are as delightful as Mr. Doug…
She glanced at the table in the corner, searching for his familiar face, and her heart skipped a beat. The table that had been occupied by him for seven years was empty for the second morning in a row.
The first day of his absence was strange in itself, but now on the second day, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
Learning The Ropes
Melina Salazar had been a waitress at Luby’s in Brownsville, Texas, for over seven years. Although waiting on tables can be tiring, she always put a friendly smile on her face and resolved to give her patrons the best service possible.
During her first week on the job, she began to notice that the eatery had some regular customers. And one man, in particular, had quite a reputation among the servers.
Hard To Please
The elderly gentleman was an 89-year-old veteran by the name of Walter “Buck” Swords, and he had made a habit of grabbing a bite to eat at Luby’s every single day.
When Melina, still training, was assigned his table during her first week, it was nothing short of a baptism by fire. You see, Walter Swords was considered by the staff at Luby’s to be an exceptionally difficult customer.
Melina was nervous as she approached, but she kept her head high and smiled. She resolved to treat Walter like any other customer and was determined to make an effort, despite his reputation.
Melina was the kind of person who always maintained a positive attitude and tried to see the best in everyone, but she was about to be tested to the limit.
Walter “Buck” Swords
It turned out that Walter was known for being short-tempered and rather rude to the restaurant staff. He was also demanding, impatient, and cranky – in short, a nightmare customer for any server.
At first, Melina was taken aback when demanded that his food arrived piping hot. He snapped that he didn’t care if it burnt his mouth, that was the way he wanted it.
Making An Effort
So began Melina’s tenuous relationship with her cranky customer, and it continued for seven years. Melina was determined to make an effort, despite Walter’s reputation.
His behavior was so bad that he would even swear at her when he was feeling particularly cranky, but she put on a brave face every morning and made the best of her situation. She always greeted him with a bright smile and a friendly “how you doin’ today?” And her efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
An Empty Space
One fateful day, Melina was surprised to see that her regular wasn’t sitting at his usual table. Although the pair didn’t have what anyone would consider a good relationship, Melina had grown fond of the cranky old man in her own way.
He had almost become a permanent fixture in her life at Luby’s. So, when he stopped coming in to eat, Melina wondered why.
On the second and third day, there was still no sign of Walter. Melina started to worry that something had happened to him, but she didn’t know where he lived or who his relatives were, so she couldn’t inquire further.
Still, the nagging worry remained in the back of her mind, and she found herself thinking about her cranky customer even after she had ended her shift. Was he okay? Had something happened to him?
A few days later, Melina found herself glancing at Walter’s usual table again, hoping to see his familiar face. But the table was empty.
She walked to the back of the restaurant and began flipping through the local paper as she waited for her shift to start. On the back page, she saw something that broke her heart.
It was the answer to her question, there in black and white. In the obituary section of the paper, Melina was dismayed to see Walter’s name printed there.
The heading read: Walter M. “Buck” Swords, 89, of Brownsville, Texas.” Melina’s eyes filled with tears at the thought of never seeing him again, but life would go on. She waited on tables with a heavy heart that day, but she had no idea what was still to come.
Melina had handled her favorite crabby customer carefully and with patience for all those years. After all, she knew that although he was rude to her, he had been through a lot in life.
The least she could do was be kind to him while he was at Luby’s. But she never imagined that Walter had taken notice of her efforts.
What It Meant To Him
Unbeknown to Melina, the grumpy man had appreciated her efforts and friendly smile every morning. He had served his country during WWII and then had started two successful trucking businesses in the following years.
But Melina had no idea just what her service had meant to him. A few days before Christmas, Melina got the call that changed her life.
It was a seemingly ordinary day, and everyone was gearing up for the Christmas holidays. Melina was going about her job as usual.
Suddenly, the phone rang – someone wanted to speak with her. Imagine Melina’s surprise when she found out that Walter “Buck” Swords had left something for her in his last will and testament!
In His Will
Walter had mentioned Melina by name in his will, and wanted to leave her a token of his gratitude for putting up with his demands for all those years – he must have known that he wasn’t the easiest customer.
Needless to say, Melina was totally overwhelmed when she heard what the cranky man had left her.
A Large Amount Of Money
The lawyers told her that Walter had left her a staggering amount of money — $50,000 to be exact. And not only that, but he had also bequeathed his favorite waitress his car – a 2000 Buick.
Melina had never dreamed of having such a large sum of money. She could finally pursue her lifelong dream of going to chef school. All her kindness had paid off in the most astonishing turn of events.
Making A Difference
But most of all, Melina was overjoyed to know that she had made such an impact on Walter’s life, and despite his behavior, he had appreciated her patience and care to always serve him like she would any other regular customer.
And she had obviously impressed the elderly gentleman, although he had never shown it.
On The News
Soon, Melina’s story of compassion and a wholly unexpected reward from the most unlikely customer had spread across America.
People simply couldn’t get enough of the story because it is proof that always being kind does pay off, even if the road is difficult and hard to bear. Local news stations picked up on the story, and Melina had a chance to tell it on national television.
Getting It Right
Melina told KGBT-TV that Walter had been “very mean” to her when she served him, and that he always wanted things “his way.”
She had simply done her job and had tried to please him by making sure she always got his order right, just the way he wanted it. She never lost her temper or got offended by his cussing.
Melina didn’t divulge whether she would continue to waitress at Luby’s after her unexpected windfall, but she did share some important advice for her fellow servers if they happen to come across a particularly difficult customer like she had.
And her words ring loud and true for most situations in everyday life, too.
“I just hope that all the waitresses out there have patience with their customers. Sometimes they cuss to you, but just ignore them. Just smile. Be nice,” Melina said during an interview.
Her patience and compassion had earned Walter’s respect in the end. She never did any of it for the reward, but she was rewarded in the most unimaginable way!