CLEARWATER -- Spend any amount of time talking to Wendy Johnson at the Clearwater Travel Plaza and it will be clear working there isn't just a job to her, it's her passion.

Johnson has been in the restaurant business since she was 16 years old. She moved to St. Cloud to attend St. Cloud State University, but she quit school with just five classes left to get her degree. She has been with the same company for 35 years now, she's currently the Chief Operating Officer, and says it was her goal all along to eventually run the business.

She says she does believe degrees are very important in certain professions, but hands-on experience and a good work ethic will also get you a long way in this world.

Johnson says it's the customers and her co-workers that make it fun, and she worries about her older regulars that she hasn't seen for several weeks now.

To not know how they are doing, if you don't have their phone number, is tough.  We're friends with a lot of them on social media and we check in with them.  All of my older customers knew that if they weren't going to be here on Sunday morning you'd better call because I'm going to worry, so they were good about that.

She says she's ready for the shutdown to be over with so she can see the regulars again, know that they are okay, and tell them she's missed them.  She calls her co-workers a light to her day every day.

Johnson says they've had to lay off a greater majority of the restaurant staff. She says a significant number of the people that work at the Clearwater Travel Plaza have been there even longer than her.

She says with the two shutdowns we've had this year she feels bad for the new owners of the business who took over a little over a year ago.

Because they haven't gotten to see their business as it is yet.  We can explain to them what a summer at the Clearwater Travel Plaza is like, or a winter, or a holiday, but they haven't had a glimmer of that yet.

Johnson says every year brings new challenges, but she says this year is way over the top. She also says the industry as a whole has changed a lot in the 35 years she's been working in it, mostly because of the law changes that have been made over the years.

If you know someone who is working full-time in the bar and restaurant industry that you think we should feature in our "Serving the City" series let us know.

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