Patricia McGowan raised four children before her husband, Al, lost a job in the tourism business and decided to buy a restaurant in the mid-1980s.
McGowan, 84, has worked in the restaurant – which her husband playfully named Al-E-Oops – almost every day since.
“She has been the reason this staple of Lancaster runs so smoothly,” said her granddaughter, Kate Glaser.
McGowan can count herself among the one in five Americans now working past retirement age, the highest percentage in a half-century, according to federal census and Bureau of Labor data analyzed by investment and financial-planning firm United Income. Most don’t appear to be doing it for the money, either, Lincoln Plews, a research analyst with United Income, told Business Insider.
In fact, McGowan doesn’t take money for 50 to 65 hours she spends each week at Al-E-Oops. She turned the business over to sons Kevin, the chef, and Timothy, after her husband died in 2002. She’s had few sick days over the years, though did take a 10-day break five years ago to visit Ireland, climbing the long set of stairs to see the Blarney Stone, but not kissing it. Otherwise, she’s been on duty most business hours, and beyond.
“In the winter, I take Monday off,” she said late one morning while sitting in a booth at the barbecue restaurant at Genesee Street and Harris Hill Road. “In the summer, I’m here. I’m not killing myself every day, but sometimes I do. Fridays and Saturdays, they’re about 13-hour days for me. I try to go home for a half-hour nap in the afternoon.”
Q: Why do you still work?
Because there's just so much going on here. I'm Kevin’s sidekick. I would never not work unless I was really sick, and I don't want to sit home and be alone. I lost my oldest son and my husband is gone. I’m so alive when I’m here. There's so many people that I love to see. It’s the oddest thing, but as I start busing tables, and I start really working, I gather all my strength, and then I've got enough where I really don't sit down.
Q: What are your roles at the restaurant?
Hostess. Cleaner. I’m a busser. I handle some work in the kitchen. I do whatever it takes to keep the place going but bartend. I don’t drink. I don’t bartend because I’d turn everybody away from drinking.
Q: What time do you come here in the morning?
I'm out shopping for supplies by 9, 9:30 in the morning at Sam’s Club, and then I'm here and doing the bottles. I straightened this all up. And then I'm cooking, too. I'm chopping vegetables and cooking. I make soup. I make salads, cornbread.
Q: Who gets the last word in here, you or your son Kevin?
In the kitchen, Kevin. Out here, pretty much me.
Q: What have been the keys to your good health?
I really don't know. I really don't. I’m one of seven kids and we never doctored much when we were growing up. My mother was the doctor and we just worked it out of us somehow. I’ve always walked a lot. When I was a kid, I babysat over on Lincoln Parkway and I used to walk home from there so I could save enough money to go to a show. We lived over near St. Joseph's Church in the University District and I thought nothing of walking home from there. We just walked all over. All of the kids did.
I also love my coffee. That’s my beer.
Q: What do you tend to eat?
Mostly chicken and fish. I have a lot of chicken salads. I do that just about every night. I have a terrible sweet tooth. I love brownies. I don't know how healthy I am. I know that I just keep going.