On any given morning, Rhonda and Ronnie Zieky can be found seamlessly sliding by each other in the narrow, 4-foot-wide kitchen of Sally and Bob's Eatery.
After 33 years, they've polished their routine to a choreographed dance. Ronnie, 69, with a perpetual smile across his face, will flip burgers and scramble eggs — about six dozen a day. Rhonda, 67, will work around him, buttering toast and answering the constantly ringing phone with a cheery, "Sally and Bob's."
To the chagrin of their loyal customers, the couple recently announced their retirement and decision to sell the breakfast and lunch destination. In two weeks, the Ziekys will hand over the reins to West Hartford couple Helen Brower, 41, and Cesar Contreras, 38.
"I had a couple crying yesterday, one today," Rhonda said of her customers. "Some of them said, 'You can't do that.' Some of them said, 'We wish you the best.'"
But, Ronnie chimed in, "Everybody is happy for us."
Brower and Contreras have said they will keep the same menu and name, which was inspired by Rhonda's parents, Sally and Bob Dworetsky. The Dworetskys bought Sally and Bob's in 1969 after their Blue Hills Deli in Hartford closed. When Sally and Bob retired in 1983, Rhonda and Ronnie were more than willing to step up to run the place.
The couple met on a blind date in October 1972 and were married in August 1973. The day after their wedding, Rhonda said, they hosted their Sunday wedding brunch at Sally and Bob's.
Prior to taking over the restaurant, Ronnie had been doing accounting work for an appliance company in Bloomfield and Rhonda, an inhalation therapist, worked at a surgeon's office until her first daughter was born.
Upon taking over Sally and Bob's, the couple changed the menu, adding homemade brisket, corned beef and fresh fruit, among other items.
"My parents were very small potatoes. They didn't even have potatoes on the menu," Rhonda said, laughing. "But it was very supportive. Everyone knew my folks so they sort of knew us, too. It was very easy."
Since 1983, Rhonda and Ronnie have woken up before 4 a.m., to get to the restaurant at 5 a.m., and open the doors at 6 a.m., Monday through Saturday. They close at 3 p.m. weekdays, 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
"We have steadies, groups of people that come every morning at 6 o'clock. Most of them, I know what they are going to have," Rhonda said. "Everybody has become close friends. It's really quite a nice group. And everybody knows each others' families."
During the construction of Blue Back Square, about 11 years ago, the restaurant closed for six months for a complete remodeling to bring it up to code, Rhonda said. Since then, she said, they have seen more competition for lunch, but locals are quick to recommend the eatery, and the loyal customers always remain.
When Mike Quatrocelli heard Wednesday that the couple were selling the restaurant, he burst in to give Rhonda a hug. Quatrocelli, who works at the office above Sally and Bob's, said he has frequented the restaurant about three times a week for the past six years, and contends that Ronnie makes the best hamburger in West Hartford Center.
"What am I going to do? Can I still call Ron up and ask him to make me a sandwich?" Quatrocelli asked, jokingly.
One local resident, John Leo, said he comes to Sally and Bob's once a week, and has for the past 15 years. He said he enjoys talking to Rhonda and Ronnie about their children and grandchildren, who live in Atlanta.
"They are just wonderful," he said of Rhonda and Ronnie. "They are warm, friendly, the heart of West Hartford."
After they leave Sally and Bob's, Rhonda said, they will visit their three daughters and grandchildren in Atlanta before going on a Caribbean cruise. Ronnie will also have knee surgery in early 2017, he said.
"The customers, I'm going to miss cooking for them," Ronnie said. "We know everybody. Half the time, their stuff is on the grill already. They didn't even have to order it."
Brower said she and Contreras want to keep the same local feel that Rhonda and Ronnie are famous for. Brower most recently worked at Effie's Place in West Hartford and Contreras worked at George's Pizza.
Though they are keeping the menu, Brower said, she will add some breakfast and lunch specials. In January, they hope to open on Sundays and to extend Sally and Bob's hours on Saturdays, she said.
"It's cozy. It's like home," Brower said. "You always run into someone you know. You are just comfortable in there."