by: SUBMITTED - Employees at the T.G.I. Fridays Tigard location pose for a photo in the mid 1980s. More than 30 years later, the restaurant has closed its doors, but the employees are still as close as ever and returned to the restaurant on Saturday for a reunion.The last time Sharon McCorkle was working at the T.G.I. Friday’s off Southwest Greenburg Road, The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” was the No. 1 song on the radio, the Iran-Contra scandal was in full swing, and Tom Cruise was feeling the need, the need for speed.

But the restaurant has always held a special place in her heart, and last weekend, McCorkle and about 40 other former Friday’s employees from the 1980s headed to Tigard for a reunion outside the now-defunct eatery.

“It started out as a thread on Facebook, and it turned into a major event of huge proportions,” said McCorkle, who worked at the restaurant from 1980 to 1986.

The Tigard Friday’s closed its doors in 2009, one of 10 Friday’s locations across the West Coast to shut down after a lengthy legal battle between Friday’s and Kobra Associates, the franchise owner.

The restaurant has sat empty ever since.

Dozens of former employees attended the reunion, some flying in from California and Seattle. McCorkle flew in from Detroit, Mich.

McCorkle and the rest of the restaurant’s gang were some of the first employees in the early 1980s, many staying with the company for years.

Back then, said former Friday’s server Paul Paz, the Tigard location was one of the premiere places to hang out in Washington County.

“It was the hot spot in town, socially,” Paz said. “If you had a one- or two-hour wait for a table, that was routine.”

At the bar, people would be stacked three rows deep trying to get a drink, he said.

“It was wild and crazy and zany, and we were busy,” he said.

The employees at the restaurant have stayed in close contact over the years, McCorkle said. They were more than just colleagues, she said. They were close-knit friends.

“We were there constantly,” McCorkle said. “We were always picking up extra shifts and working, so we became like a family. When we weren’t at work, we were at the restaurant or with people from work. Our whole lives revolved around the people there.”

Now spread out across the country, the employees set up a Facebook page dedicated to the early days of the restaurant. And after some former employees suggested a get-together, everyone jumped at the idea, McCorkle said.

“Time passes, life happens, and we grow up,” she said. “Sometimes you lose track of people, but we realized that we wanted to do this, and we started looking for some of the people we had lost touch with. Some of these people we haven’t seen in 15 years.”

The friends met for dinner on Saturday at the Thirsty Lion Pub, next door to the empty Friday’s building.

“It was amazing to gather that amount of people for this,” McCorkle said. “It was great.”

Teamwork leads to friendship

Paz said that for some of the first employees at the restaurant, the bonding began early on.

New employees had to memorize 500 different drink offerings and 250 menu options, Paz said. Employees would often study together.

“We had to crash and focus and learn the menus and pass tests, so we would study and train together from the beginning,” he said. “We would work all day pulling double shifts, then play all night and maybe have enough time to shave and go back to work. I can’t tell you how many times we did that.”

Paz equates the atmosphere at the restaurant to the TV show “M*A*S*H.”

“There was a lot of serious business, but we played as hard as we worked,” he said.

Restaurants function as a team, Paz said. And the family atmosphere of the staff at Friday’s made that a reality, he said.

In one of his first days on the job, Paz dropped three plates of food on the floor during evening dinner rush.

“People were laughing, and I was mortified, when out of nowhere, a busser comes out to help me, one of my peers goes back to the back to tell the cooks, and the manager went to the table to talk to the customers. In those few moments, I realized that we were a team. I had to be watching out for my peers.”

That idea of looking out for one another expanded outside of the work day as well, Paz said.

“We would call upon one another for support, both personally and professionally.”

When one of Paz’s children was sick in the 1990s, it was his former colleagues at Friday’s who he turned to for support.

“They were the people I would call, or they called me. The dynamics were the same, we knew it was OK to ask for help from one another and knew they would have our back,” he said.

Although the restaurant itself isn’t open any longer, Paz and McCorkle said it was important to go back.

“That place represented a huge chunk of time in our lives,” McCorkle said. “Gosh, we went through marriages, divorces, deaths. It was a force of nature in a lot of ways, and I am so glad that I was a part of it.”

Plans are already in the works for another reunion, Paz said.

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