NEW ORLEANS - It is July 1967. The New Orleans Saints have yet to play their first NFL game in New Orleans. LBJ is president, Vic Schiro is mayor. There's no Jazz and Heritage Festival yet, but Antoine's Restaurant has been going strong for more than 125 years.
And that summer of '67, the French Quarter landmark welcomed one of its newest employees: a 16-year-old apprentice waiter named Sterling Constant.
50 years later, he is now the restaurant's longest-tenured waiter, one who has served generations of regular customers, as well as celebrities, political figures and Carnival kings and queens - all with the same brand of hospitality that has made him a local treasure.
On Sunday, Constant (known to everyone by his first name, Sterling), celebrated 50 years on the job and was honored with a special party at the restaurant.
"It's undescribable. It's great," said Sterling of the party. "This is beautiful."
"This is so New Orleans," said Antoine's proprietor Rick Blount. "Where else in the world are you going to show up for a party for your waiter? He's not dying and he's not retiring, he's just celebrating his 50th anniversary."
Sterling first began his career as a prep cook before signing on to be an apprentice waiter. After five years in that role from 1972-1977, he assumed his current position on the floor of the restaurant and today is the dean of Antoine’s wait staff.
"He shows up every day and he never stops from when he gets here until he goes home," said Blount.
There's no telling how many thousands of Sazeracs, souffle potatoes or dishes of Oysters Rockefeller he has guided from the restaurant's fabled kitchen and bar to customers' tables through the years. For Sterling, however, each day is simply a chance to do what he loves best: serving people and making them feel welcome and happy.
Low-key and unassuming, with a great New Orleans accent and an eye peeled on everything happening around him and his customers, Constant sets an example for waiters and staff half his age. Each workday he climbs aboard the 7:45 a.m. bus from St. Bernard Parish for the 20-minute ride to the French Quarter. Some days he works a 15-hour stretch - especially during the holidays and Mardi Gras, when private parties for krewes pack the restaurant. "Just get them their drinks first and they'll be happy," he laughed.
At age 66, and after 50 years on the job, Sterling says he has no plans to retire. That is welcome news to his regular customers.
“People appreciate that you’re looking out for them,” Constant says. “Over the years I’ve learned as a waiter that if you take care of the guests that you have, they’ll take care of you.”
Sunday night's event was a chance for some of his customers and co-workers to do just that.
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