Randy Ritchie, a longtime waiter at Original Joe’s passed away last Wednesday, May 2, at the age of 61, news that quickly spread through the San Jose dining community. I met Randy Ritchie in 2008. I was working on a story for Metro about professional waiters, people who regarded waiting tables as a career, not something they were doing until they found another job. Of the half-dozen or so waiters I interviewed Ritchie stood out for his outsize personality and unique spirit.
To me, Ritchie seemed the perfect Original Joe’s waiter. Wearing a tuxedo as did all Original Joe’s waiters, the looming Ritchie took control of a table the minute he approached with his booming, gruff voice. He would crack a joke at someone’s expense, instantly charming the table with his wit and smooth professionalism. You were in good hands with Ritchie, and diners regularly requested to sit in his section. He was a showman as much as he was a waiter.
Ritchie was best known for the impromptu rhymes he would compose about diners, bellowing them for unsuspecting guests celebrating birthdays or anniversaries. The whole dining room would turn around to watch and listen as Ritchie roasted a thoroughly embarrassed diner as he rapped his little ditty. The performance ended with applause and laughs all around.
Little did I know that when I was interviewing Ritchie for my story he was interviewing me, asking me where I went to high school, how long I’d been at the Metro and other personal details. I had finished my interview and was taking the last bites of lunch in a quiet booth when Ritchie appeared before me and in his fog cutter of a voice began to deliver a chanting rhyme about me that he had scribbled onto a white paper bag when I wasn’t looking. For a second, I thought he must be delivering his oratory to someone else, but then in a brief panic I realized I was his victim. I squirmed, red-faced, as all eyes were on me, but I couldn’t help admire his sneaky ploy. He got me good.
When he was done, Ritchie gave me the paper bag with his furtive scrawl on it, and we said our goodbyes. I carried that paper bag in my briefcase for years, and every time I came upon it and read Ritchie’s impromptu rap, it made me smile. Ritchie made a lot of people smile over the years. He will be missed.
There was been no word yet on a memorial service.