After 36 years, servers still love work at El Charro Avitia in Carson City |

After 36 years, servers still love work at El Charro Avitia in Carson City

Ronni Hannaman
Long time El Charro Avitia servers Jo Ratledge (left) and Pam Ventling double team diners Shawn Peterson and Lisa Lee at the popular Mexican restaurant.
Ronnie Hannaman

In an era where longevity on a job might be five years — or in the case of Millennials — two years — it’s uncommon to find employees sticking with a private-sector job for more than 36 years. You might expect longevity in the public sector because of the retirement carrot, but in the private industry, job hopping is the norm.

It’s even rarer to find someone sticking with a job in the service industry for long since most of those jobs attract those who consider a service industry job as short-term until a better employment opportunity comes along.

That may be true in most places, but at the iconic El Charro Avitia Mexican Restaurant in south Carson there are a number of employees who have been with the restaurant since it opened 42 years ago — and not all of them are family.

Take Pam Ventling and Jo Ratledge. Both have been servers — or, let’s use the old fashioned word waitresses — at El Charro since the early 1980s. Both started part-time in 1983 and have served multiple generations of the same customer families in those 36 years. Both strongly assert they love their job today as much as they did 36 years ago and attribute their love of work to the Avitia family and how the owners respect and treat their employees and customers.

Ventling primarily works the day shift and Friday evenings. She’s also a manager. If she’s on duty, you can’t miss her. Her sassily cut white hair, red lips, and energy attracts your attention immediately. Watching her buzz from table-to-table is like watching a well-rehearsed dancer. At 67, she has the energy of someone much younger and you can sense immediately this server truly does love her job.

She’s all about old-fashioned customer service. “I treat my customers the way I wish to be treated,” is her motto. Further adding, “In today’s world, customer service seems to be a relic of the past. I am of the old school that the customer is always right and go out of my way to make sure every diner has a positive experience.”

Ventling has quite the following who ask to be seated in her section. One of her major strengths as a server is to connect with her customers. In a sense, she has become “family” to those who ask to be seated in her section. For her, good service and friendliness “is not just about the tip, it’s about loving to serve clients.”

Jo Ratledge also has quite the following. She first joined the Avitia family to supplement her full time desk-job income after having worked part-time at other businesses and while earning her AA degree from WNC. “When I first started working 16 hours a week as a waitress here, I earned more than what I made working at my 40-hour desk job.”

She quit the 40-hour job and reduced her weekly work hours from 56 to 30 hours and has never looked back. Jo is the one with the blonde waist-length braided hair you can’t miss.

Ratledge commented almost 90 percent of the customers she serves are repeat customers from all across the region including Reno and Lake Tahoe. Ventling chimed in by adding, “We have so many repeat customers because all the food served here is fresh and homemade.”

Both attest to the quality of the food and enjoy eating their meals there during their shifts. What’s the most popular dish? According to Ventling, it’s the chimichangas. Ratledge recommends the shrimp fajitas.

How much longer will these two long-time waitresses work at El Charro’s? Ventling replied, “I will work as long as all my moving parts allow me to do so.” Ditto for Ratledge, adding, “I have never been ashamed to tell people I am a waitress.”

Rare is the employee who can put on a happy face pushing aside the challenges of the day before entering their place of work. Ventling asserts she does so and when she walks in the door of El Charro, she leaves the past behind and goes about the business of cheerily serving customers who can sometimes be demanding. Both are consummate professionals and look forward to their shifts and serving their customers.