Jennifer Lauren Holtz has an interesting mix of jobs. By day she is an investigator for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office in Norristown, and at night she is a server at Spring House Tavern in Spring House. (Photo by Len Lear)

by Len Lear

My wife and I were having dinner with old friends recently in the Spring House Tavern, a 298-year-old property on 1032 Bethlehem Pike in Spring House, a couple miles past Ambler. While talking about a medical issue (my friend is a heart surgeon), a server (Donna) who overheard the conversation (she was NOT waiting on us) entered the conversation and expressed her unsolicited opinion, mentioning that she was a nurse in her “day job.”

We were impressed by this statement, so she told us that another server (Cindy) in the restaurant was a travel agent in her day job, and then our own server pointed out that she was also an investigator for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office in Norristown, where she performs extensive background checks on defendants, some of whom are involved in drug cases, as well as several other duties. In other words, before serving up snapper soup and crab imperial, these women are getting more than a taste of much weightier matters.

Being a nosy reporter, I wanted to learn more, so I arranged to interview our server, Jennifer Lauren Holtz, in our offices at the Local a week later. The energetic, bubbly 35-year-old lifelong Ambler resident graduated from Wissahickon High School in 2000 and from Penn State Abington in 2004 with a major in criminology and minor in psychology, but she also started working after school at age 16 as a dishwasher in the long-gone Pike Restaurant. “I washed dishes there for about five years,” she said, “which is why I do not like washing dishes at home now.”

Since she did not grow up with a silver spoon in her mouth (so to speak), Jennifer was always working nights and weekends right up until her 30s to pay off student loans. At one time or another she was a cashier at Genuardi’s supermarket and a server at the Old York Road Country Club, Blue Bell Inn (where her dad was a bartender), Holiday Inn in Fort Washington for 10 years, Broad Axe Tavern, From the Boot in Ambler, Castello’s in Blue Bell and Spring House Tavern since June of last year.

“I’ve come a long way,” said Jennifer. “When I started working at the country club in May of 2002, a woman asked me for Pinot Grigio, and I didn’t even know what it was. I did not even know if it was food or not. But I love working at Spring House Tavern. Everyone is so nice and down-to-earth. It’s fun. It’s like one big family. That is why I’m still there.

“Occasionally you might have customers who look like they’re not having a good day, and they might turn out to be the best tippers. Some people don’t realize that we only make money from tips. I’d say the average is about 18 percent. One customer only left a couple dollars but later in the evening he drove back and apologized and gave me more money.”

But Jennifer’s most interesting job may have been as an asset protection investigator at Saks Fifth Avenue in Bala Cynwyd from May, 2004, to September, 2006. She “loved the job” and would have stayed longer if not for the low pay and long driving time to and from work. Among other responsibilities, Jennifer would oversee a system of 32 surveillance cameras to uncover theft not only by customers but also by employees. She would also walk through the store, pretending to be a customer, looking for lawbreakers.

“The store had some really expensive items, like a Christian Dior shirt for $7,000, so we had to protect these things like they were gold. A customer might go into a fitting room with three articles of clothing and come out with only two. If you’d see somebody steal something, you’d wait until they leave the store and then confront them. I’d say, ‘We need you to hang around for awhile,’ and you ask them to sign a statement admitting what they did. Sometimes you have to play ‘good cop, bad cop.’

“No one ever put up a fight because they know you caught them. Only once can I remember that a person who paid with a credit card tried to run away. Credit card fraud was more common then theft. Several times a month you’d catch people doing that. Every person caught stealing was arrested. It was about 50-50, men and women. It was actually fun for me to catch people doing these things. I felt like I was protecting stuff, even though it was not my own. There was a feeling of accomplishment My boss, Moira Brooks, was amazing, as was an investigator named Chris Rigney!”

From July, 2010, until now, Jennifer’s day job has been with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office in Norristown. Among other things, it is her job to assist defendants who do not want a lawyer, investigate the backgrounds of defendants — driving records, previous convictions, phone downloads, wiretaps — that she turns over to prosecutors in cases of illegal drugs, retail theft, even rape and murder.

“My boss, Kathleen McLaughlin, who’s in charge of the narcotics unit, is a great person, which helps, but there are so many cases and so much work involved in each case. This is why it can take so long for a case to actually get to court. You have to be up to speed on everything and quick on your toes.”

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