Lessons from the Griddle: Sausage King, Head Flipper look forward to Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, July 20


To gain the title “Sausage King” of the annual La Jolla Kiwanis Club Pancake Breakfast (albeit self-proclaimed), Tom Henry has had to earn it. Having been with the Kiwanis Club since the 1960s, he’s manned the sausage table since the onset of the event. And he will do so again at the upcoming community tradition.

The 2019 Pancake Breakfast will take place 7:30-11 a.m. Saturday, July 20 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. Tickets are $12 and available at the door. Children, ages 10 and under, eat free with the purchase of an adult ticket(s).

“People tell me I do the best job they’ve ever seen,” Henry told La Jolla Light. “I don’t know how it happened, but I always found myself at the sausage table.”

He started with the event back when it was held in a Girard Avenue parking lot.

“The kitchen we used for those breakfasts was Mary, Star of the Sea’s kitchen,” Henry explained. “In those days, there was little air-conditioning. The sausages give off all this steam and smell — and it was a labor of love for whoever had to cook them. By the end of it, we were covered with grease and stink and had to wash out our clothes right away.”

When the event moved to the La Jolla Rec Center, with outdoor food prep areas, there was a slight reprieve for those working the griddles.

“I still get pretty stinky after being on the sausage grill for that few hours,” Henry joked. “After four hours, I’m ready for a shower and to scrub my hair. My wife makes it very clear that I have to clean up right away. But I always feel good about it.”

The sausages are pre-cooked before the event, and heated to perfection under Henry’s spatula.

“At any given time, we have 100 sausages on the grill, so we have to keep track of what is what, and how long each one has been there,” he said. “When we spot the right ones, we serve them right up. And after all my years of doing this, it just comes naturally. I’ve had a few roll off into the sides when I was not paying attention, but we’re just good enough that we can do it in our sleep. That’s why I call myself ‘The Sausage King.’ ”

Henry is not the only one who has earned his stripes — and a title.

Glen Rasmussen, “Head Flipper” of pancakes, has worked his way up from the bottom to his current post.

“You have to pay your dues,” he laughed. “You start at the grunt level and make your way up to the front of the pancake line. So I’ve set up, made batter, cleaned grills, waited tables, etc. You have to earn the honor of flipping pancakes. Flair doesn’t come without a price.”

As head flipper, Rasmussen not only has to make the event entertaining for those <FZ,1,0,14>waiting in line (which he does by flipping the hotcakes into the air), but has to train the other servers.

“To properly flip a pancake, you have to know when it is ready,” he advised. “If you flip it too soon, it will stick; too late and it will burn. When the pancake is ready, you have to flip it in right place or they stick together. We work hard to make sure the (flipper’s) actions are precise. Flipping pancakes and catching them is a refined skill and takes a lot of practice.”

But at the end of the day, making the event fun is priority one.

“That’s just the kind of event it is,” Rasmussen said. “We do this for fun. We want to make it fun, so people will feel inclined to come out that early morning and eat pancakes with their neighbors.”

Intended to be more of a gift to the community than a fundraiser, the event often does not yield a profit.

And that’s OK.

“Since the beginning, my favorite thing about this event is that it brings families out,” Henry said. “We have entertainment for the little ones, face-painting, pony rides, a guy on stilts ... people come from all over to enjoy the hotcakes and everything we offer.”

Other Kiwanis events that are more oriented to fundraising include the La Jolla Half Marathon, which raises approximately $200,000 annually for local charities; and the Junior Olympics, at which 1,000 elementary-school children participate in track and field activities. Both events take place in the spring. <end_bug_diamond>