ELLSWORTH — If you have had anything to eat on Main Street in the past two decades, the odds that you know Cookie Herrick are high.
And the odds are just as good, if not better, that she knows you, too.
“She just enjoys being with people, she genuinely enjoys it,” said Paul Markosian, owner of Flexit Café and Bakery, where Herrick has worked for the past several years. “It’s what she thrives on.”
Herrick, for her part, agrees that interacting with customers is what she has enjoyed most about her career in the food service industry. It started when she was a teenager on Mount Desert Island and came to a close Sept. 29, when she worked her last shift at Flexit.
“It’s time,” she said during a brief break in her shift the day before she retired. “I’m just going to stay home to play Little Cookie Homemaker.”
A native of Bar Harbor, Herrick first worked at Mitchell’s Restaurant there and then at the Acadia Restaurant. When she later moved to Franklin, she got a job at Pop’s Chowder House in the Maine Coast Mall in Ellsworth. That eatery was located where the Payless shoe store most recently was, and Herrick worked at Pop’s in the 1980s.
In 1994, Herrick interviewed for a job at Riverside Café in downtown Ellsworth, then run by sisters Beth Fendl and Barbara Guida. Fendl, now general manager at Finn’s Irish Pub, remembers that interview clearly to this day.
“I immediately knew that she’d be wonderful for us,” said Fendl this week. “She genuinely cares about people and their needs and what’s happening with them that day. That’s why she is so loved.”
Herrick said she worked at Riverside for about 13 years, then went on to the Maine Grind for about four and a half years. Flexit is her third place of employment on Main Street over the past 23 years, and there were also short stints at Taco Bell and Hannaford.
Fendl said Herrick was not only an employee but a friend and a “mentor in a lot of ways.” She said her philosophy is that if people in a service industry job genuinely care about the customers they are taking care of, everything else — the challenges, the headaches, and the crises that erupt in the course of any given day — will work itself out.
“Cookie taught me that,” Fendl said.
Herrick said she will very much miss her daily interaction with customers. She said she always made a point to get to know people and make them feel comfortable. A new customer would be “honey” until Herrick learned his or her name, which would not take her very long.
“It’s because I care and I make a point to do it,” Herrick explained, adding quickly that she was not boasting but speaking from the heart.
Told of an out-of-town customer who spent a month in Ellsworth this summer and frequented Flexit — and who was impressed Herrick learned her name — Herrick’s face lit up.
“Oh, I love her!” Herrick said, pointing to where the visitor usually sat and recounting how she would check on the customer to see if she needed anything.
As her employer for the past several years, Markosian has seen firsthand how Herrick’s personal touch resonates with customers.
“When someone tells me what they like about my restaurant,” he said, “it starts and ends with Cookie.”
And about that name: no, it isn’t the one she was born with. Her legal name is Isabelle, but she has had Cookie for a long time now. When she was a young girl she spent some time in the hospital, and a family friend who was a nurse decided that her name needed a little shortening.
“Isabelle is such a long name,” the family friend is reported to have said. “You’re my little Cookie.”