This story originally appeared in The Jessamine Journal.
For Norton, working at Taco Bell is a way of life. After all, she has been working at the Nicholasville fast-food establishment for 14 years, and has worked in the fast-food industry for 38 years.
“My husband was a gypsy; he thought he had to move all the time,” she said.
When their gypsyish lifestyle took them to states like Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah and Pennsylvania, Norton worked for a variety of fast-food companies because they were within walking distance from her house. She doesn’t drive. It wasn’t until they moved back to Nicholasville, Norton’s home, when she began working at Taco Bell.
She’s been a fixture of the store ever since.
“I think I could work 40 years in a place like this if I had stayed in the same spot,” she said.
Fourteen years is the longest she has have ever lived in one location.
“I started out just as a cashier ’cause I had been in management at a bunch of different places and didn’t want to be a manager again,” she said. “But that quickly changed when within the first few weeks I became a shift (manager) ... and I just moved up.”
Norton reached the rank of senior assist ant manager before stepping back down due to poor health.
But the Nicholasville store is home to Norton. Her silver shift-manager nametag is emblazoned with her name, “Miss Carol.”
“My last manager thought it was cute to get me a new nametag, so she had ‘Miss Carol’ put on it,” she said. “So people come in and say, ‘Hey, yeah, Miss Carol’s still here.’”
Her maternal ways and experience have made her an easy choice to train others.
“They like me to train because they’re like, ‘You’re patient with them,’” she said.
Behind her round glasses and petite stature is a training force.
“I can’t even imagine how many people I have worked with, help train, how many district people have trained here, how many (regional general managers) have trained here.”
To the Taco Bell family, she is momma, grandma, Miss Carol.
When it comes to training, “I believe in giving everybody a chance. We don’t all learn at the same rate. … We had a cashier, little girl, bless her heart, we thought we could never train her ... but she was sweet, so we kept her on and she ended up being an assistant manager.”
Last summer and fall, the Nicholasville location was renovated and the crew was relocated to other stores. Norton worked at the Danville store, others at Tates Creek.
“I had customers come down to Danville (to visit me),” she said. “‘We’ve come to see you!’ they’d say.”
Norton couldn’t escape her work persona during the renovation, even out of uniform.
“When the store was closed, I’d be out and, of course, everybody knew me ... they would be like, ‘Taco lady, when are you gonna be open again?’” she said.
Her son, who drives her, also was asked about the re-opening.
During the renovation, “pretty much everyone else wound up quitting. I am pretty much the only one left management wise ... they chose not to come back. It was a long time. It’s hard when you go to a new store.”
While losing her crew was hard, “We definitely needed a new store ... It was old. The crew (needs) a shakeup every so often ’cause we get ... stagnant,” she said. “We’re still getting the quirks worked out.”
From the table she was sitting at, Norton points to Amanda Himes, sitting across the room.
“Amanda, she’s a new one; she’s great. She’s a good shift,” she said, “Business has been great. Not that it was ever bad, but this,” she motions to the newly designed building, “has helped us majorly.”
“I’m makin’ a mess over here,” Amanda calls from her table.
“You’re makin’ a mess? I’m gonna [get] you,” Norton jokingly responds.
Norton knows that her longevity in fast food isn’t typical.
“Fast food is definitely one that people don’t stay long in, unless you become a (general manager) or higher-up, because that makes the money,” she said. “Me, I don’t make the money, but as long as I can live, I don’t need a lot.”
As she gets up to leave, she says, “I’m going to go see what they need before they shoot me.” She puts on her black hat and gets back to work.