“Attic Salt” for Feb. 10, 2013

Mary Dent manages a Subway near the newspaper.

Subway calls its sandwich restaurants “stores” or “locations.” I think of the one I frequent as Mary’s place.

Dent is 57 and retired from LSU where she worked in food service, as janitorial help and in the university’s print shop.

Like a lot of Americans, Dent retired only to find that she needed to work.

“I didn’t have enough money to see me on through,” she said.

Most of Dent’s customers don’t know her name, but they know there’s something different about this franchise sandwich shop.

The franchise owners like workers to say “Welcome to Subway” as customers approach the serving line.

It’s Mary Dent’s “Hey, Baby” that makes customers look up and smile.

“When I’m on my diet, this is where I come,” said customer Cliff Dunlap, a workplace safety consultant.

Dunlap’s been coming to Mary’s Subway for two years.

“They’re friendly, and I’ve never had bad service,” Dunlap said. “I like the cleanliness,” said the workplace consultant. “If they leave the line or touch the cash register, they change their serving gloves. I’m a stickler on that.”

Dent and members of her family have worked at the Subway since Chris Lowery, 24, was in high school. Lowery is the son of franchise owners David and Sharon Lowery.

The Lowerys have nine Subways which generate 70 to 100 responses a week to an in-store survey.

One customer told tellsubway.com that she goes to Mary’s subway at Bluebonnet Boulevard and Perkins Road because of Mary and Mary’s crew of “sandwich artists.”

Sandwich artist. That’s what Subway calls the people who make sandwiches.

Mary started off as a sandwich artist, became a shift manager and assistant manager before her promotion to manager.

“She has an outstanding work ethic,” said David Lowery. “She’s part of our family.”

For two years after Dent left LSU, she took care of her mother who had cancer.

Her mother got better. “One day, she said, ‘I’m OK. You can go home,’” Dent said.

Dent likes to count her blessings, starting with her 8-year-old son, Le,ROI. Her customers are blessings, too, she said.

She stopped a young woman just beyond the cash register one day to ask, “What’s wrong?”

There was nothing wrong, the customer said. She was just tired. And pregnant.

“I know when they’re having a good day or a bad day,” Dent said.

Dent sneaked up on me as I picked up lunch at Matherne’s Deli one noon.

“Caught you!” she cried.

For a second, I felt I’d betrayed Dent by eating someplace other than her Subway. But what was SHE doing at the grocery store’s lunch counter?

She was on a peach cobbler run, Dent laughed. “We get the fish, too, sometimes.”

Middle age is a tough time to look for work. The lunch crowd at a certain sandwich shop is glad Mary Dent did.