Ask any acquaintance who has had the pleasure of working in a restaurant, and you’ll always hear the same thing: it’s not an easy job. Because of this, a vast number of people who get hired in the restaurant industry don’t stick around for very long. Those that do have to possess a great deal of determination and be able to work incredibly hard while facing any challenge with a smile—all qualities that Shane Sundling, general manager of Elmer’s, has in spades.
Sundling, who celebrates his 30th anniversary with Danna Brothers’ Elmer’s this month, was hired as a busboy just out of high school. He was looking for a job to supplement his income, and the restaurant seemed to be a good fit.
When he began working at Elmer’s, Shane was also working on getting a degree in justice administration and was planning on going into a career in law enforcement after graduation. As time went on, however, Shane began to realize that the restaurant felt like home to him.
“I was interested in becoming a police officer and going to school for justice administration,” he explains. “Pretty soon though, I started to really enjoy what I was doing, and I decided to just go with it. I think I decided within my first year at Elmer’s that this was what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.”
Soon, Shane began working his way through the ranks of Elmer’s, learning all that the company had to offer. He worked as a kitchen manager for a time, and he was eventually transferred and promoted to general manager. When a position opened at the Mall 205 location for a manager, he took it and has been there ever since.
“I was always striving to get to working back at the mall,” he says. “I started here in 1985 and I always thought it would be interesting to move up and be the general manager, and I finally got that opportunity.”
Even though Shane loves his job and all that it entails, he says that the work itself was not initially what attracted him to Danna Brothers’ Elmer’s.
“What I really love about this company in particular is that it’s a family operation,” Shane explains. “I’ve worked with a lot of people over the last 30 years, and some of them are still here with me. Jerry and Joe [Danna] are very family oriented as well, and they’re great people to work for.”
Anyone who has met Shane can tell you that he is a dedicated family man. He met his wife at Elmer’s a number of years ago, and the couple has two children, a 15-year-old son and a 23-year-old daughter. Shane says making sure that his wife and kids are taken care of is his number one priority, and working at Elmer’s helps him do just that.
Although he cannot always be at home with the wife and kids, Shane is never without family by his side. Many of Shane’s employees at Elmer’s say that his warm personality and wonderful management style help ensure that anyone who works with him feels as if he is a close, beloved relative.
To server Monique White-Duong, for instance, Shane is a father figure and trusted confidant. The two have been known to share the occasional frank discussion, and she says that she knows if she ever needs anything, she could go to him for help. “Elmer’s is a home away from home for me,” she says. “I was gone for a year while I was having my child, and when Shane invited me back I jumped at it. Shane is the best manager, and he’s really like a dad to me. I know if my daughter and I ever needed anything, he would be more than willing to help.” She adds, “People are intimidated by him some times, but he’s like a big teddy bear. He really is the sweetest man. He always says if he could have another daughter, he would choose me. Anybody who has had the chance to meet Shane has a blessing right in front of them.”
Mary Staehle, Shane’s current assistant manager, has been working with him for 27 years and cannot imagine a scenario in which she wouldn’t work alongside him. In fact, since becoming a server over 20 years ago, she has been offered more than one leadership position that she turned down because they would mean a transfer away from the Mall 205 location.
“I’ve been offered a few management positions at other Elmer’s locations over the years, but I never wanted to transfer,” Mary explains. “Jeremey [Kibbee, Danna Brothers’ director of operations] asked if I would ever consider going to a different location, but I had to tell him that I wouldn’t take any position if it wasn’t at the mall because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to work with Shane. If you have a boss that’s so good you don’t want to move to a different store, he must be a good boss, and Shane definitely is.”
According to Staehle, the amazing family dynamic between staff members at the Mall 205 Elmer’s is definitely a two-way street. “Shane considers us all family, too. He would do anything for us in- or outside of work. He refers to us all as a family and is very compassionate toward everyone and their feelings,” she explains.
The benefits of the atmosphere that Shane creates at Elmer’s extend beyond the staff. Guests of the restaurant are also treated like dear friends and family whenever they come in, and Shane relishes any opportunity to sit down and chat with regulars about what is going on in their lives. They are always happy to see him and share stories about fishing or trips they’ve taken recently.
“We have really great customers here. We have quite a few regulars and we chat whenever they come in,” Sundling says. “I’m a huge people person, so I’m glad I have a position where I get to go out and talk to everyone.”
Mike Carulli, a longtime customer of Elmer’s, says that he and his siblings visit the Mall 205 location anywhere between three and five times per week, and he has always known Shane to be an absolute delight. “You never get to know the managers too well at other places, but Shane goes out of his way to get to know his customers,” Carulli says. “He is, without a doubt, the backbone of the business. It’s always good to see his smiling face, and he does his job to the nth degree.”
It is this attitude that has helped Shane rise to the top of the Danna Brothers’ Elmer’s family ladder and set himself apart as not only an exemplary worker but also an exemplary man, according to Danna Brothers’ co-owner Jerry Danna. (Besides Mall 205, Elmer’s franchisees Jerry and Joe Danna own three other Elmer’s: Parkrose, Tigard and Gresham.)
Danna says Sundling personifies their company’s mission to make guests happy, earn their trust and keep them coming back. “Over the past 30 years, Shane has performed and excelled at every work position in our restaurants. His dedication and professional work in the kitchen, server isle and front of the house has earned him both respect and credibility in his position as unit general manager,” Danna says of his longtime employee.
In addition to his wonderful work ethic, Danna says he greatly appreciates not only the kind of man Sundling is, but also how he upholds the same wonderful moral character in all aspects of his life. “I would say that what stands out the most about Shane is his honesty and ethics. He’s a fully trustworthy and quality person, and in addition to being a good worker, he’s a good man,” Danna explains.
To acknowledge his many years of sedulous service, Danna says he and brother Joe are taking Sundling and his family to Hawaii this year for their annual Elmer’s seminar, a privilege not commonly given to people in Shane’s position. “We have an annual Elmer’s seminar in Hawaii, and this year, Shane and his family are going with us so we can show him off to everyone,” Jerry says. “It’s very unusual for someone to be around as long as he has and make a career of this business, and we want to recognize that.”
Looking towards the future, Sundling says he knows retirement is probably on the horizon somewhere, but he does not like to put too much thought into it. He loves what he does, and he plans to keep doing it as long as possible. When the day finally comes to retire, though, he has a few ideas on how to spend his time. “My brother keeps hounding me to think about retirement,” he says, laughing. “He thinks I love my job too much and I’m not thinking about retiring someday. I’m hoping to stay as long as I can, but I think at some point when I do retire, I’ll probably go and be a part-time fishing guide. I also enjoy fishing an awful lot, so I have that to fall back on. I do think about it, but I don’t dwell on it … I don’t think about when it’ll be.”
This post was corrected to state that Mr. Sundling’s post work plans include being a part-time fishing guide, not a diving instructor, as was stated in the original post.