KINGSTON, TENN. - The people who work at one East Tennessee restaurant joke that everything is breaking down except the owner of Mama Mia's. She is 91 years old.
"I'm not going to quit until I go bye-bye," Lottie O'Brien said with a laugh.
She's baked bread in a particular oven since 1956 when she ran a bakery up north.
"We had that one in the bakery in New Jersey. When we moved, we transferred that down here," she said.
"Down here" is Kingston in Roane County. O'Brien arrived here after a long journey across the world.
"I was born in Germany. My mother had 13 children. Mother says 'work don't kill' and I'm still here," she said.
Lottie and her husband had six kids. She's a German woman who calls herself a war bride. She married an Irish serviceman whose mom was Italian. They moved around, lived in New Jersey, then opened Mama Mia's Pizzeria in Kingston in 1971.
"You have to like it in the first place. You have to like to work. My mother said work don't kill. And I think she's right," she said.
Before she opened the restaurant she got some advice from an Italian pizza maker in New Jersey.
"Whole milk and mozzarella. Nothing else. Whole milk and mozzarella. She said don't use nothing else," O'Brien recalled. "Pizzas are healthy really. It depends on what you put on them.The fresh ingredients or the one from the can. No!"
Miss Lottie is at the restaurant every day it is open.
She works a 13-hour shift making everything from scratch. She even throws her own pizza dough.
"Make meatballs, make the bread, make the pizza dough. And when that's finished I come up here, that's my second job until night time," she said.
In 46 years, the menu hasn't change, the decor hasn't changed and Lottie hasn't changed, though she admits that at 91 years old she has shrunk a little. Lottie needs a little help to reach the top shelf of her antique oven. But she has no intention of giving up her job.
"You don't retire. If you don't use it, you lose it," she said.
She doesn't plan to lose it anytime soon.
"I work until I drop. Hello!" she said.
Mama Mia's in Kingston is open Tuesday through Saturday.
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