News & Politics

May Grenier, Louis Grenier


Income $80,000 (1999)

Health Insurance covered by employer

Rent $700/mo.

Utilities $50/mo.

Phone $70/mo.

Food $1200/mo.

Transportation $70/mo.

She is just so calm and elegant as she serves the roll, places the Ipswich clam stew on the counter.

“Well, I’ve been doing it a long time,” she says. She has an Irish accent, because she is from County Mayo.

May Grenier, 54, has worked at the Oyster Bar lunch counter for 22 years. She even served her husband Louis a lobster in 1989, though she didn’t know he would be her husband then.

The Greniers are sitting in their cozy apartment in Murray Hill discussing their careers. “I get $4.40 an hour,” she says. “We just got a 20- cent increase. We make all our money in tips.”

“I can’t get her to quit,” her husband, Louis Grenier, a 54-year-old video editor, says.

“I love my customers.”

“Art Carney’s son. Terence Stamp. They all come to sit with May.”

“Oh, Louis.” May tries to hit Louis on the head.

May Grenier came from Ireland in 1964. “I had three aunts who were nurses here. My aunt said, I’ll bring her to America. I got a job as a waitress at Schraft’s, the one by St. Patrick’s. Then I worked across the street from Grand Central, at Jimmy Walker’s, an Irish pub. I got married to my first husband, had my son and stayed home. Then I was on my own a number of years. I met Jerome Brody, who owns the Oyster Bar. He offered another girl and me a job. That was 22 years ago. I was scared to death.”

May met Louis in 1993 at the Garden Jewish Center in Queens, though neither one is Jewish. “When I was by myself I took classes in ballroom dancing,” she says. “A friend of mine said I should go to Queens to this dance soiree. January 2, the coldest night in the whole year.”

“I lived in Brooklyn but I just wanted to go far away to find love,” Louis says. “Every Saturday night I went to the 92nd Street Y to do yoga and then got on the train for the Center.”

Louis Grenier came from Chicago in 1977 to “become an actor—the Mudd Club, Danceteria, Eric Bogosian. I was in that scene. I taught for seven years at the Center for the Media Arts. About ’89, I needed money. Lately I’ve been at ABC doing what they call vacation release. You get benefits but you’re hired just for a period. I also do my own work. I just applied for a grant from Harvestworks. Where I work, all the men talk about pensions, what they’re making—guys all ages. I don’t really care about all that. An acting teacher once told me, Energy is all we really are.”

“I’ve always worried about money,” May says. “I was by myself a number of years. I also took a job on the weekend taking care of a wonderful lady. So I saved some money doing that.

“I can’t believe how commercial this country is.” May grew up on a small farm with a father, three brothers, and pigs and turkeys. “We got fruit for Christmas.”

“She said the present that was the best thrill was an apple,” Louis says.

“I like to buy clothes once in a while. But, as a waitress, I don’t buy many. I don’t need them.”

“She spends very little money on herself,” he says. “We got her some Prada shoes.”

“The only thing I buy is a nice outfit if I’m going to Ireland. I try to get Louis involved in the spiritual side of life rather than the money.”

“May’s very into charity work. Two days a week she goes to New York Hospital. She gets a list of names, an AIDS patient or an 80-year-old man who is dying.

“I tell her, let’s put your charity work on our income tax. She doesn’t care about deductions.”

“Oh, Louis.” She tries to hit Louis on the head.

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