Her name is Kaitlyn Schoeffel, she's 19 years old and lives in Egg Harbor Township. But for the purposes of this story, you can call her the Cinderella of the Ocean City Boardwalk.
Scene One in her story starts at Bashful Banana, a long-popular Boardwalk business whose specialty is whipped bananas - or bananas that are peeled, then frozen, then smooshed through a heavy-duty vegetable juicer until they come out the consistency of soft-serve ice cream.
Schoeffel worked all last summer and earlier this season as a Bashful Banana waitress, which is where she learned a skill she revealed to the world last Saturday in Scene Two of our Cinderella drama.
The setting for that one is a long block or so north of her workplace and across the Boardwalk, in the Ocean City Music Pier. In this scene, Schoeffel's dressed up just a bit more than she does in her work uniform of shorts and Bashful Banana tank top. She's wearing a floor-length lavender gown designed by Sherri Hill, and standing on the Music Pier stage in front of a crowd of more than 900 people as she reveals a little-known fact about herself:
She can peel six bananas at one time, thanks to all that Bashful Banana experience.
Schoeffel told that to the enthusiastic crowd that packed into the Music Pier for the 2012 Miss New Jersey Scholarship Pageant. The Montclair University student, one of 25 contestants in the pageant, was there as the winner of the Miss Avalon crown.
Near the start of the night, Schoeffel was introduced as one of 10 pageant semifinalists. About two hours later, she made the cut again, to the five finalists. A few minutes after that, the emcee, former Miss New Jersey Dena Blizzard, asked each finalist a different question about herself. In Schoeffel's case, it went something like this: What's something that even people who know you don't know about you?
That's when Schoeffel revealed her banana-handling skills, and was not at all bashful about promoting her employer's product. She described the wonders of the whipped bananas and added with a smile that the dessert treat "is zero points on Weight Watchers, for us pageant girls." When Blizzard jokingly asked if Schoeffel brought one for the emcee, Schoeffel invited Blizzard to stop in after the show and try Bashful Banana herself.
Alas, you will know this isn't a Hollywood Cinderella story because our Boardwalk waitress didn't win the Miss New Jersey crown. But Schoeffel made it all the way to first runner-up in her first try to win the state title, and she was thrilled that her good friend, Miss Atlantic County Lindsey Petrosh, of Egg Harbor City, did win the pageant.
And a few days after those Cinderella moments at Miss New Jersey, Schoeffel dropped in to visit her old friends - and to pick up a paycheck - at Bashful Banana. She's not on the restaurant/bakery's schedule these days because, as first runner-up, she was invited to the National Sweetheart Pageant later this summer in Hoopeston, Ill., and she accepted. So she's taking some time off from work to get ready for that national competition.
Still, back in uniform, Schoeffel did show her banana-peeling ability, even if the crates of bananas in stock right then were too green to handle easily. Her boss, Bashful Banana owner Heidi Edwards, explained the actual bananas that go into the whip are allowed to ripen until they get brown spots on the skin, which makes them better-tasting and easier-peeling than the green ones.
Edwards said when they have some time between customers, the servers are expected to peel the bananas that go into her shop's top product. In one shift, a waitress might peel four boxes - at 40 pounds each - of bananas. Because on a jamming summer day, the owner adds, her store can go through 350 pounds of bananas, trying to keep up with the crowds that line up to snap up the one-ingredient, fat-free dessert.
She has never before had a worker ask for a Saturday night off to head down to the Music Pier and try to become Miss New Jersey, and Edwards said she had no chance to check out her server's pageant performance.
"We were busy that night. We could've used her here," Edwards recalled, as Schoeffel showed off how she and other workers run the juicer - another standard waitress duty. (But most of the servers don't wear a crown to do it, as Schoeffel did for a photographer getting pictures of her this week back at Bashful Banana.)
In fact, last Saturday night got so crazy at her business, Edwards jokes she thought about running that long block down the boards, grabbing her star staff member off the stage and putting her back to work.
"Kaitlyn's been a wonderful worker," the boss says. "She covered me all through this spring, when she got home from college."
Schoeffel says she has enjoyed working at Bashful Banana, and stayed busy there last summer in her first non-babysitting job, mostly working four or five days per week.
But she was a regular on the Boardwalk long before she was a worker there, and has been a lifelong audience member for the Miss New Jersey parade on the boards. She remembers being on the job one night last June and seeing the parade pass by Bashful Banana, but even as a little kid, she went to the parade with her mom, a former Miss New Jersey contestant - as Margot Janowski, in the 1980s - who now runs Miss Margot's Ensemble Arts, an Egg Harbor Township dance studio.
And Kaitlyn remembers heading home from work one day this spring and seeing pictures of the Miss New Jersey contestants, including her own, hanging outside the Music Pier. She's no stranger to pageants - she won Miss New Jersey's Outstanding Teen and other titles when she was younger - so seeing her smiling picture on the Ocean City Boardwalk felt a bit like she was dreaming.
As a girl, "I thought it went, first the President of the United States, and then Miss America," she says, smiling again.
But now, she's more sophisticated than that about the levers of power in her country, and her career dream is to be a political correspondent in Washington or New York - which is why her college major combines broadcast journalism and political science.
Schoeffel also has a lifelong interest in business - before she graduated from Egg Harbor Township High School in 2011, she qualified three straight years to be in the Future Business Leaders of America contest, and traveled as far from home as California to compete.
As it turned out, spending last Saturday at Miss New Jersey instead of Bashful Banana turned out to be a wise business decision for Schoeffel. As top runner-up, she earned $4,300 in scholarship money - a considerable step up from the $50 or $60 she says she and her young colleagues can each make in pooled tips on a big night at the restaurant.
And as much as Schoeffel has liked her summer job, she really isn't thinking about trying to run her own Boardwalk business - especially since she has those other career plans already set.
"But maybe I'll come back to the Boardwalk," she suggests, "and report about things going on here."
Maybe, someday, she could even report on a real-life, Boardwalk Cinderella story.
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