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'Pizza Lady' is Round Table favorite
Just after 11 a.m. on a recent weekday, Kris Ochoa carries pizza to a table, takes orders by phone, researches a credit card slip for a customer, instructs a cook to prepare a specific amount of chicken, and pours drinks for people.
Her neat ponytail, secured by a bright purple ribbon, swings from side to side as she spins around, tending to multiple tasks.
It's the beginning of the lunch rush hour at Round Table Pizza in Yuma, but she good-naturedly chats with a customer waiting for an order to go and then steps out from behind the counter to hug a couple of customers.
Everyone in the place seems to know and like the establishment's bubbly manager, yet she was surprised and overwhelmed at customers' responses when her employer/brother Ray Ochoa thanked her on Facebook on Aug. 1 — the anniversary of her first day of employment — for her “27 years of service, support, dedication and loyalty” to the company.
“Your efforts make such a difference with our customers, employees, and in the community. Know that you are appreciated by all of us, and that your beautiful smile is always something that everyone counts on to brighten their day,” his post reads.
Others agree in their comments. “Since (I moved) to Yuma you have been one of the happiest faces that I have seen,” writes Josh Cecil. And numerous people comment on Ochoa's smile.
Lisa Seeley writes: “Now this is a happy person. You can almost hear her laugh in the picture (on the posting)!”
And Tony Ordonez writes, “Kris, you are a household name to everyone in Yuma…”
But Kris Ochoa is not necessarily the name by which they all know her.
“I have all these kids that come in to the restaurant, and then they'll see me someplace like Walmart and they'll say, ‘It's the pizza lady, Mom!'”
She doesn't mind being known as The Pizza Lady, however. “I love it! I have these two little boys, Elijah and Noah, who have been coming in to the restaurant, and they'll come up to me and give me a big hugs. I'm a huggy type person!”
A self-professed workaholic, she enjoys working long hours and seeing large numbers of people at work each day, but she also craves her “alone time.”
Unlike people who read books or take solitary walks for their alone time, however, Ochoa finds her solitude amidst the chaos of a busy casino.
“There, I'm in my own little world. I can just sit there and look at the screen and watch the numbers, which only costs about 20 cents every time I push the button. It just relaxes me and totally winds me down.”
The ability to relax in a busy environment might have come from being the second child born to a family with six children, she says.
“My dad was in the service, and we always joke about it because I was made in Japan but born in Topeka, Kansas.”
She admits to being “a brat” while growing up. Although she and Ray — two years her junior — are very close now, she used to antagonize him as a child. He'd tell on her and then her mother would ground her, she says with a chuckle.
When her father retired in 1967, the family moved from Tucson to Yuma when Ochoa was in the third grade. She graduated from Kofa High and Arizona Western College.
During the San Diego Padres spring training sessions in Yuma, she worked at the snack bar and helped cater their parties.
She went on to study business at Arizona State University. But “school was not for me.” So she “hooked up with a Canadian” and moved to Canada, where she worked at the Arby's restaurants he opened there.
But she soon returned to her hometown. “I've lived other places and gone other places, but I love Yuma.”
Then she laughs and adds, “It's really funny because when I was in school, I said that once I leave here when I get out of high school, I'm never coming back.”
After returning to Yuma, she worked for Safeway and Church's before beginning work at Round Table as “a regular employee” who worked her way up to manager.
Her typical day begins with workouts at Curves in the morning, where she especially enjoys doing Zumba twice a week. Then she goes to work, where she flips on the TV to catch the end of “Charmed” and then listen to “Sports Center” as she prepares the restaurant for opening at 11 a.m.
A group of longtime customers often gets there before she opens, she says, nodding toward a table where they are having lunch.
Not only does she get to know regular customers but also organizations and individuals who work with her to organize takeover fundraisers, such as a recent one to raise money to help pay for a little boy's cancer treatment.
She says it feels great to know she's touching people's lives that way. “I love it when the community comes down to support them, too.”
In the past, she worked excessively to keep from having to deal the effects of a traumatic experience. But she has learned healthier coping skills, which include balancing work with recreation time with her family and friends.
“I have a passion for work, and I have a passion for darts. If I'm really sick and have to miss work or darts, I get someone to cover for me. But those are two things I really hate to miss.”
As a National Dart Association member, she plays darts three times a week for local bars, traveling to tournaments and vacationing in Las Vegas for 10 days every year to participate in the international dart tournament.
“I also play bingo. It's all about having fun, but I think people can tell when I'm not having my fun because sometimes I have a different attitude, like when my routine is disturbed in any way. So when I see all this love on the Internet (Facebook posting), and what people think about me, I think, gosh, I'm such a witch sometimes!”
As manager of about 25 employees, she admits she is not always as patient or understanding as she thinks she should be, and that weighs heavily on her.
But she tries to admit her faults, communicates to work things out and turns to her brother Ray for advice.
She says the inspirational music, quotes and business leadership books from Simple Truths that Ray has provided her have had a big influence on her.
Perhaps that influence has been felt by employees as well. LaDonna Hesley Swearengin writes, “Best boss ever!!!” on the Facebook post.
And Ray posts again: “I cant tell you enough how much I appreciate you! The last Round Table Pizza in Arizona is successful because of YOU!!”
Apparently Emily White agrees. Her post reads: “… Kris you make it a special place to eat and hang out!! Thank you!!”
Ochoa says, “I need to thank the people. I love them dearly. They just made me feel so loved. I've always felt the love here, not just with the employees, but the customers and my brother. He and I really did not get along when we were growing up, but we are very close now and I would not change it for the world.”
Besides Ray, her love extends to other members of her family, especially her nieces and nephews. “I don't have any children, but I'm the favorite aunt because I spoil them dearly.”