After 46 years, bartender Linda Marshall will serve her last customer on May 24
Linda Marshall isn’t big on numbers.
Her wedding anniversary? Couldn’t tell you the year without really thinking about it. The date of her first day on the job at Stanley’s Tavern on Foulk Road? No idea. The biggest tip she’s ever received while tending bar at the legendary establishment? Not a clue.
But even Marshall, a self-described people person, can’t ignore one big number coming up at the end of May. When the Wilmington native clocks out after her last shift on Thursday, the 24th, she will have completed an astounding 46 years at Stanley’s.
For her co-workers, family, employer, and especially her regulars, it will be the end of an era. For Marshall, it will be more than the conclusion of a chapter of her life; it will mark a bittersweet end to some of the biggest laughs and fondest memories in her 66 years.
An early start
Marshall started work at Stanley’s Tavern so long ago that she couldn’t even step foot in the main bar area. She wasn’t of legal drinking age at the time, and so she would post up in the second-floor kitchen area, making sandwiches for the lunchtime rush with three other women.
“I remember I couldn’t even walk into the actual tavern to report for work, so I would walk up the back steps and we would send orders down to the tavern on a dumbwaiter,” says Marshall. “Once I was old enough, I started waitressing and then bartending. From the first day, I loved it, loved the people.”
Steve Torpey was the general manager of Stanley’s Tavern in the early ‘80s, and eventually part of an ownership group that bought the restaurant in 1982. He’d known Marshall since their days as classmates at Mt. Pleasant High School, but he didn’t realize how much of a force she’d become with the locals who flocked to her bar.
“She’s a great person, but she also has that matriarchal nature to her that brings people in,” says Torpey. “And she loves to laugh. She tells jokes, gets the customers engaged with each other. Her lunch shifts these days are more of an event than anything, and it’s not something you see most places.”
Marshall said she never took or kept her bartending gig at Stanley’s for the money or the flexible hours or the attention one gets from being behind the bar. Rather, she says, she has remained at Stanley’s because she loves people and can’t imagine not being with those she refers to as “friends” almost every day.
“I don’t know what it’ll be like when I leave here for the last time, but I’m really going to miss these people,” she says, fighting back tears. “But I’ve been preparing for this for a while now, even lowering my number of shifts each week, so I think I’ll be ready when the time comes.”
Torpey says that, even though Marshall has scaled back on her number of shifts over the past few years, it’s difficult to find someone with her loyalty and longevity. Each year he sees a third of his primarily young staff leave to go back to college or head to the beach for the summer.
“Turnover is huge in this industry, as most people know,” he says. “We’re always rotating schedules and trying to keep a quality staff that can connect with the customers. Linda is that saving grace that connects one staff to the next. She’s touched thousands of lives over the years, and we’ll be sad to see her go.”
Connections to last a lifetime
Marshall has put in more than 80,000 hours at Stanley’s, which is known as both a family restaurant and a sports bar. As a result, she has waited on her fair share of sports celebrities and media personalities.
“Let’s see: Arnold Palmer, Julius Erving, Ukee Washington … oh, and of course Bill Bergey,” says Marshall, chuckling and rolling her eyes when mentioning the retired Philadelphia Eagles linebacker. “Then again, he’s been in here so many times over the years, I’d hardly call him famous. He’s a regular just like the rest of ‘em.”
One of those regulars is Gary Gooden, a Wilmington native whose membership at the Kirkwood Fitness Club and work in the North Wilmington area finds him at Marshall’s bar most weekdays. The 62-year-old says he’s probably been served lunch by Marshall more than a thousand times over 12 years.
“She’s a wonderful person, really, and so caring,” says Gooden. “But she also has a great sense of humor,
and I think you need that from a bartender. Sometimes it’s a great joke or a story she’ll tell, and sometimes she’s just the perfect listener.”
Sue Lilly, who became close with Marshall when she started at Stanley’s in 1988, says Marshall is as famous as the wings the restaurant serves. “Some people come for the food and the atmosphere,” says Lilly, “but a lot of people come to see Linda. She always has people laughing and is a good-hearted person.”
Marshall met her future husband, Will (a former employee), at the restaurant, and has seen her daughter, Meghan, work there. She’s been surrounded by blood relatives and adopted family members like Gooden and Lilly. It’s no surprise, then, when Torpey says that her departure will be marked by an appropriate event.
“I don’t want to spoil what we’re planning that day, but let’s just say it’s gonna be a party; she’s earned it,” he says.
No matter what the festivities may be, long-time customer Gooden is sure of three things: “a lot laughs, a lot of stories, and definitely some tears.”
Regulars can catch Marshall for just a handful of shifts in May—every Tuesday and Thursday for lunch until the 24th