SAUGUS — Laura Cole is a regular customer at Hammersmith Inn and the high point of her breakfast is waitress Emily McKay’s smile.
“She’s the greatest. She is so pleasant to everyone. You come in and feel like part of her family,” said Cole, a Saugus resident.
McKay has worked at Hammersmith for more than 30 years — she’s not sure exactly how long — and lived in town for roughly the same amount of time. She moved from her native Medford to a Central Street apartment and walked across the street one day to inquire about a “help wanted” sign on Hammersmith’s front door.
“I didn’t know one egg from another,” she said.
Angelo Agganis owns Hammersmith Inn with Peter Politis and Agganis was a teenager working in the restaurant when he interviewed McKay for the waitress job and hired her. He said she quickly became part of the Agganis family, celebrating high school graduations and marriages.
“She saw us grow up,” he said.
On mornings when the weather is bad, Angelo Agganis rolls by to give McKay a ride to work. She said the Agganis family is the reason Hammersmith endures as a popular local place to eat.
“They are the nicest people and so good to everybody,” she said.
McKay works 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her first customers are regulars — “townies,” she calls them — mostly retirees who haven’t broken the habit of getting up early.
Cole and her husband, Michael, are typical mid morning customers who banter back and forth with McKay over breakfast.
“She calls us her kids,” said Laura Cole.
Floy Johnson has dined at Hammersmith for 30 years and she is part of “a big crowd” converging on the restaurant every Tuesday and Friday. She was eating a meal at Hammersmith one day with her sister when McKay admired their jewelry and the trio launched an enduring relationship founded on good food and good-natured ribbing.
“She’s a wonderful, giving person,” Johnson said.
One of McKay’s staunchest customers is her husband, William, who travels the short distance from their Saugus home to Hammersmith. McKay’s favorite meal at her workplace? The cheeseburger club sandwich.
When she isn’t joking with customers or coworkers and serving meals, McKay enjoys walking Saugus’s bike path and logs five miles round trip four days a week. She said the walks remind her of the “rustic” neighborhood that defined Saugus when she moved to the town.
Retirement isn’t a word in her vocabulary and Agganis and Politis say they can’t afford to part with her.
“There aren’t too many people like Emily. She’s a gem,” Politis said.