Randy Nicklaus has a remarkable memory. Give him a week of making your coffee, and on the eighth time, he'll hand you what want, no order necessary.
Customers say it's what makes him the best around, and what keeps people coming back to his truck parked outside the Metra station at 159th and Cicero.
"He knows his customers, many of them by name," said customer of 20 years Angelo Luciano, an resident who commutes to the city for work. "I complain to him all the time that he's underpaid."
A cup of Nicklaus's creation goes for $1. A breakfast sandwich might cost $2 or $2.50. Starting the day off on the right foot is worth it to commuters.
"We can depend on Randy better than the trains," said Bev Smith, Tinley Park resident.
After 29 years, they expect to see his white truck parked outside the station. He's there like clockwork, rain or shine, from 5 a.m. until 8:15 a.m. Many trot inside, grab their ticket, then come back to scoop up their coffee. It's a swift hand-off: a dollar into the coffee jug, a Styrofoam cup into the hand.
His customers are in a hurry, Nicklaus said. They don't have time to stand around.
"Thirty percent of this is last-minute," Nicklaus said. "They can always count on getting their coffee and paper."
Tinley Park resident Nicklaus never misses a day, and he notices when his customers do. Over the years, he's seen familiar faces disappear from the station scenery, as long-time working men retire and quit the commute. He has seen a discernable drop-off in customers in recent years, he notes. Shortly before 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, business is mostly quiet.
"It's not like it used to be," he said. "In the '80s and '90s, you wouldn't have been able to talk to me, I would be so busy."
Metra ridership seems to have dropped, he said, caused by a lack of available employment in the city. He estimated that profits are down about 30 or 35 percent from previous years, he said. And after Wednesday's , some customers told Nicklaus they would be changing to a different station to help offset the impact of the increase.
His sales at the station are "the backbone" of Randy's Catering, he said. And with , stability is a concern, specifically if the blueprints include plans to offer food and beverages. He does not offer catering outside of what he provides at the station, or that at the station at nearby Matteson Auto Mall.
"If I were to lose this, I'd more than likely go out of business," he said.
Not if his customers have anything to say about.
"We love Randy!" said Tammy Ochoa, Oak Forest resident.
"Oak Forest doesn't have a lot of businesses, so any time we can promote people to live, work in Oak Forest, it's really nice," Luciano said.
Nicklaus appreciates his customers' support and pays it forward with each steaming cup of Joe and friendly chit-chat.
"I'm like your local morning bartender," he joked.