THE SMILING FACE BEHIND THE COUNTER

Any regular at ABP knows him, talks to him, likes him, gets advice from him. Wernher P., the man with the mysterious name is

His name tag is as inviting as he is. "How are you today?" asks the man whose tag curiously reads, 'Wernher P.' And for about the thousandth time, his thick, French/Creole accent betraying his Haitian heritage, he inquires, "What would you like?"

Dark eyebrows arched, large eyes twinkling with amused interest, Wernher P.'s face breaks out into a grin.

"For here or to go?"

Only One 'Wernher P.'

In more than four years behind the counter at Au Bon Pain (ABP), Harvard Square's busiest cafe, Wernher P. has seen all kinds.

Some are in and out so fast they hardly have a chance to catch their breaths. Others linger for hours, even days, with no place to go, content just to sit and watch the steady stream of people.

Yet, while there are thousands of faces at ABP, there's only one Wernher P. Indeed, over the years, Wernher has garnered quite a reputation, becoming something of a local pop-legend in his own right.

A Winning Personality

Somehow, despite the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that always seem to fill and overfill the cafe, despite the lines of customers in front of his counter that move so fast but never seem to grow any shorter, despite the time constraints and the noise and the pressure of standing on his feet for eight straight hours each day, Wernher P. manages to save a nice word for everybody.

"I haven't seen you for a long time," he smiles. "How are things?"

And Wernher really wants to know.

"He's extremely friendly," says Kathy R. Fazzalaro, a long-time customer. "Every morning I come in here for a cup of coffee and I'm always greeted with, 'Hello ladee, how are you today?'" she says, laughing, as she imitates the distinctive inflection of Wernher P.

"He's the fastest behind the counter, too," says Diane Jellis, a Harvard reunions official.

And Wernher's over-the-counter conversations go beyond simple small-talk. "He gives me inspirational reading now and then. And every day he asks me what chapter I'm on," Jellis says.