Home Lounges Not All Heroes Wear Capes: The Pax Who Fixes Lounges’ Broken Pancake Machines

Not All Heroes Wear Capes: The Pax Who Fixes Lounges’ Broken Pancake Machines

by SharonKurheg

Facebook is chock full of niche groups. Sometimes they’re for serious reasons, like support groups for people who all have the same rare disease, or adopted folks who are looking for their birth families (or vice versa). But then there are the more fun groups, like the ones for people who own those 12-foot tall skeletons you see at Halloween (and beyond!), or for those who love chocolate.

Needless to say, there are lots of travel-related groups out there. Many give advice about travel, or are used as platforms for travel agents’ and/or tour guides’ advertising. But there’s one FB travel group that, I think, is even more niche than the usual. It’s called Travel Grumps 101 and as one of the group’s administrators says, it’s “…a place to vent about the first world problems we all come across in our travels. …we want to hear about it so we can joke, post memes and not be serious.

You just got notification that your hotel won’t have water for the next 12 hours? The kid behind you on the plane is watching Bubble Guppies on their handheld device at full volume for the entire flight? You’re on a road trip and the ice cream machine at the McDonald’s on I-95 is broken? Tell everyone on Travel Grumps 101! Most people will show some sympathy, and sometimes they may even have a solution (that broken ice cream machine? Here’s how to find out which ones are broken and which aren’t).

The group is also good for sharing what they call “Anti Grumps”. You complained about the water issue and the hotel credited you 1,000 points. The flight attendant felt bad about your being stuck in close hearing range of the Bubble Guppies kid, and refused charge you for the adult beverage you ordered. The McDonald’s manager gave you your food for free because your son started crying over the lack of ice cream.

Here’s another good example of a Grump/Anti-Grump:

December 5, 2021
– when the kid at the Admiral’s Club bar EWR doesn’t know what a Jamison bottle looks like & you have to guide him along the wall of bottles to get it………………..no, nope, not that green one the other green one, okay now next to that green one more over, yup that’s the one!
Anti-grump – when the same kid at the Admiral’s Club bar EWR also doesn’t know what a shot looks like in a glass & you end up with a triple shot Jamison & ginger for the price of a single. Nice kid, still learning bar, great attitude! He gets a good tip! 🥃

PC: Eric H. / Travel Grumps 101

Eric H. (who posted the above Grump/Anti-Grump) is one of the moderators of Travel Grumps 101 (he’s also a mod. on Award Travel 101®, which is more of a “teaching about points & miles” group. Travel Grumps is described as, “the grumpy cousin Eddie” of Award Travel 101, LOL!). He’s what you’d probably call a “typical” business traveler (more on that in a minute), but Eric has developed a particular skill, probably much to the delight of lounge (and occasionally hotel) visitors across the country.

If he comes across a broken “fully automatic” pancake machine, he usually knows how to fix them.

You know the kind of machines I’m talking about, right? You press the button and BOOM!, you get a freshly made hot pancake in about a minute.

But sometimes you get to the lounge at breakfast time, and you’re not in the mood for hard boiled eggs, 4 ounces of yogurt and a knockoff version of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies with skim milk. What you’re really really jonesing for is pancakes. And that’s you see it…one of the saddest sights known to the travel world:

PC: TripAdvisor / *cue the sad trombone

The thing is, if Eric’s there, he might just be able to save the day with his mad pancake machine fixing skillz.

So for the past year or so, whenever Eric has come across a broken pancake machine at a lounge he’s visiting, he’ll post about it on the Travel Grumps group. Here are some examples (all photos and narrations reposted with permission):

March 22, 2002 – San Francisco, CA
Grump – the pancake machine is out of pancakes!!
Anti-grump – easy fix, add a new bag press button 2, tada!!!
Additionally, After a quick 5 min “just in time” training I am now certified as a pancake machine technician and able to assist when the pancake machine goes into Tomfoolery mode at any Alaska Lounge. 😎 — at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

May 4, 2022

Grump – Walking into the AS lounge at JFK and the Pancake Machine is Out of Service.
Anti-Grump – I experienced a similar situation about 6 weeks ago and was able to overcome the problems! I can fix this!!
Grump – this is a bit more complicated than the last one. This is going to require a belt change and some filter maintenance!
Anti-Grump – after the last Pancake Machine Issue I was certified as a “Pancake Machine Repair Technician” and possess the knowledge, skills, & ability to rectify this situation.
I am happy to report that the mission has been accomplished and the Pancakes are again flowing at JFK!!!

September 3, 2022 – SeaTac, WA

Grump – it’s early!
Anti-Grump it may be early but at least I get pancakes!
Grump – while the pancake machine is in good working order for the most part, it did have some crusty crumbs come out onto to plate while pancake one of two was extruding onto the belt. This tells me that the machine will need a deep brushing soon to ensure that the smooth pancake texture is not polluted an unwanted crunch of bitter burnt pancake ends.
Anti-Grump – The butter was at room temperature and slowly melted across the vessel for my syrup.
Grump – I won’t mention that I dislike single serving syrup packets but I do. I understand the reasoning but still I prefer to gently pour my syrup from a glass dispenser at just the right height to maximize syrup spread but create no splash. — at Alaska Airlines N Gates Lounge.

December 6, 2022

Grump – the calibration is off on the Holiday Inn Express Pancake Machine causing one larger odd shaped pancake.
Anti-Grump – I know how to fix this!!!
Grump – packaged syrup type substance and cold butter type substance for toppings.
Anti-Grump – the pancake size is slightly larger than the Alaska Airlines machines so more product same amount of time!!

December 22, 2022
Grump – SEA is a mess this morning, plan for extra time needed if your coming through!
Anti-Grump – I have Clear, sailed right through in about 5 minutes.
Grump – N lounge is pretty full but not too terrible yet.
Anti-Grump – that Pancake Machine in the N Lounge has been inspected and in good working order.
I would like to introduce a new concept to the Pancake Machine. Behold, Pigs in a Blanket paired with a local Blackberry Cider! Sláinte!!

January 8, 2023

Anti- Grump – Happy to report that the Pancake machine at JFK is in working order!
Grump – While working within normal limits, the calibration for pancake size is on the lowest end of acceptable & will need to be recalibrated soon.
Anti-Grump – The temperature, color, & consistency are all excellent including the room temperature butter!
Grump – Really want some sausage links to make pigs in a blanket and they only had sausage patties available.
Anti-Grump – Improvise, adapt, and overcome! My newest Alaska lounge creation, the Pigs in a Quilt!

No wonder why he has nicknames of The Pancake Machine Maintenance King and Pancake Machine Repair Technician!

Eric’s pancake machine posts have always been fun to read, but they also got me curious – how did he become the Fixer Of All Things Broken Pancake Machines? So I got in touch with him and asked if he was up for an interview.

He was. So here’s how the whole “broken pancake machine fixer guy” thing came to be:

Let’s start easy – where do you live?

I live in the foothills of Central California about an hour away from the North entrance to Yosemite.  I’m lucky that I can choose from multiple airports to travel out of.  FAT is the closest, but quite often I will fly out of SFO, SJC, OAK, or SMF for more choices on flight times. 

Marital/Kid/Pet stats?

Married, with three daughters, One married adult daughter and Son-in-Law who currently lives in Seattle area and two teenagers at home.  Pets, 2 dogs, 2 cats and sometimes we have a few goats to keep us entertained.   We also have a plethora of wildlife roaming the area which are always fun to sit and watch on a lazy day. 

Your FB profile says you’re retired, but you travel an awful lot for a retired dude. Are you? If so, what did you do for a living? Or, what do you do now?

Yup, Retired officially since 2019 after 30 years in the Fire Service and Emergency Management working in local government here in California.  I failed at retirement in April of 2020 and went back to work in Emergency Management to assist with the COVID response of our local First Responders.  I now am an Independent Contractor for Emergency Management, instructing Emergency Operations Center and Incident Command System courses throughout the State of California. 

How often do you travel?

A lot!

For work or pleasure or both?

Currently I travel mostly for work.  A lot of driving up and down the state with some flights.  Usually, about two or three weeks a month I’m on the road.  I’ve instructed courses in just about half of California’s 58 counties. 

For pleasure, family trips are every couple of months.  Weekend trips to the California coast or up a little higher in elevation to the Sierra Nevada mountains make up most of them but we try to get to two or three different states a year and at least one big international trip. 

Ever since our kids were young my wife and I have taken what we call “Mommy / Daddy” trips to make sure we spend some quality “us” time.  We don’t always do the traditional touristy things (although we have and will still do it).  Last year we went to Maine for Maine Maple Sunday to visit the sugar shacks and immerse ourselves in maple syrup in many different forms!  I’m trying to talk my wife into going to the Evil Knievel Museum just because.

I have been known to fly up to visit my daughter and Son-in-Law for the day or take a quick trip to get some miles in, I love flying and will take a flight any chance I can. 

I’m a big Ice Hockey fan, Go Sharks!!, so several years ago I began a quest to visit all the NHL arenas.  I try to get to two to three new arenas each year.  I’m about 1/3 of the way there currently. 

The Sharks opened this year’s hockey season in Prague, so my wife and I made the trip to see them play internationally.  We added a few extra days and spent four days in Vienna, and a day in Bratislava and Frankfurt as well.  Most of the trip was on points and miles which makes these kinds of trips doable! 

The points and miles I collect from work travel help offset the family travel quite a bit.  Looking for the “deals” in travel is a fun hobby for me and I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of people who have been willing to help me out. As one of the Moderators for the Award Travel 101 and Travel Grumps Facebook groups I try to pay it forward to others.  It’s been a great community and I’m always learning something new for travel or finding new places to visit!! 

We just returned from Paris for the New Year celebration. I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without the help of the Award Travel 101 community!  Unfortunately I did not find any pancake machines while we were there but the Christmas Market crepes made up for the void.

Where do you have status? (I assume Alaska Airlines, since so many of your pics have their brand on their pancake machines. But anywhere else?)

I have status with a few airlines:
Alaska – MVP Gold
United – Silver (from my Marriott Titanium status)
American – Platinum

Hotel status:
Marriott – Titanium
Hyatt – Globalist
IHG – Gold
Hilton – Gold (from my AMEX Platinum)
Radisson America – Silver

Most of my hotel status is from stays.

What’s/where’s your favorite lounge and why?

Oh, favorite lounge is hard.

Domestically, my favorite is SeaTac’s Alaska Lounge at the N gates.  I love the spaciousness, great view across the runway and they always have a seasonal cider on tap!  Followed by SFO, JFK, and PDX. LAX has great staff but it’s a bit small for such a large airport. 

Internationally, while small I really like the Finnair lounge in Helsinki, and I enjoyed the Air France lounge at CDG recently.  Although sadly neither have pancake machines.

And then, of course, we started talking about pancake machines…

How/when did you become so interested in the working/broken status of pancake machines?

I’ve always loved pancakes and as I began to travel more often, I would periodically come across the pancake machines and thought they were amazing!  It’s so quick and easy to get something other than powder scrambled eggs!

I’ve done several posts in Travel Grumps about the trials and tribulation of the pancakes machines and try to bring a little humor to it.  I do go looking for pancake machines now for no other reason than curiosity of what type they are and where they are at.  You never know when you’ll need a pancake.  

Travel can be stressful and the interaction within the Travel Grumps community is great I always get a snicker from the comments.  It’s a lot of fun!

Do you really fix them when you find them broken? (If you really do fix them – do you ask permission, or fix first and ask permission after? Does the staff know you as the “pancake machine fixer guy” or anything?)

To keep any employees out of trouble I cannot confirm nor deny that at an undisclosed lounge(s) I may or may not have completed the servicing of a pancake machine. 😉 And yes, I always ask permission!

I believe it was early in 2022 that I first came across a pancake machine that was out of service.  The bag was empty and it needed to be changed. The Alaska Airlines lounge staff went to change it and I asked how it worked.  They showed me all the steps they take to change the bag and where the filters are and how to check them including what they look for to keep it running smoothly. Mostly for my entertainment I created a post in the Travel Grumps Facebook group.  A few weeks later I was at JFK just as they opened the lounge a 0’dark thirty in morning and their machine was not working.  The staff there told me that the closing staff had let them know that the pancake machine was not working and needed service.  The morning staff was busy getting the lounge up and running and were unsure what needed to be done.  I remembered from my tutorial several weeks prior how to service it and what to look for.  I walked them through it and tada, fresh pancakes. 

I am pretty sure that I self-certified as a Pancake Machine Technician. However, if Popcake would like to send me through any training I would not be opposed. 

As far as I known, the staff has no idea who I am other than some random guy in the lounge that has some knowledge about the pancake machines. I haven’t received any employee of the month awards or anything unfortunately. 

Your pics tend to focus on Alaska Airlines/Popcake pancake machines, but I also saw a pic of a Holiday Inn Express “Quick Cakes” machine, too. Do they work the same? (I checked – they’re not the same manufacturer)

Both pretty much work the same.  I tend to spend more time in the Alaska lounges than at Holiday Inn Express’.  I have noticed that the Quick Cakes machine does usually put out a larger pancake.

What’s your ideal pancake set up (size of pancakes, type of syrup, butter, etc.) and have you ever experienced it?

My ideal pancake is my grandmother’s pancakes.  They were very thin almost crepe like.  Cooked in an iron skillet with a fresh spoonful of Crisco for each set of 2.  Crisp on the edges and flexible in the center.  They were always the best on the second day after being in the refrigerator overnight.  We would roll the and dip them directly into sugar.  Amazing!!! 

When traveling there are a few things needed for a good setting of pancakes.  The pancake needs to be a bit thinner and slightly bigger than a silver dollar pancake, room temperature real unsalted butter, and warm 100% maple syrup.  A side of Cranberry Juice or a seasonal cider to finish off the meal. 

Recently I’ve expanded my pancake menu and added pigs in a blanket.  It’s a great way to keep things fresh!  

Oh, and lest anyone think he’s at risk of breaking one of those $3,500 (!!!) babies, Eric says he’s read the Popcakes training manuals and watched the online tutorials the manufacturer offers. According to their website, they’re, “designed to train an end-user in all aspects of the Popcake machine.” So he must be an expert, right?

So there ya go, travel friends – everything you could ever want to know about Eric H., Travel Grumps 101 moderator and your fellow passenger who may have fixed the lounge or hotel pancake machine just before you got there, so you could enjoy a nice, warm, freshly made pancake.

Not all heroes wear capes, y’all.

And hey, Popcakes people…can you give Eric an honorary Pancake Machine Technician title or something?

***MANY thanks to Eric H. for his time and sense of humor, as well as to all the admins & mods of Travel Grumps 101 and Award Travel 101® for their cooperation!

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