Scenes from Suwanee: Liz Echols shares how Ippolitos, CrossFit changed her life

Staff Photo: John Bohn Liz Echols is a bartender at Ippolitos in Suwanee. Echols, 26, has worked at Ippolitos since the age of 15.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Liz Echols is a bartender at Ippolitos in Suwanee. Echols, 26, has worked at Ippolitos since the age of 15.

Liz Echols was tenacious for a 14-year-old. She knew she wanted to follow in her older sister's footsteps. At the time, her sibling was a waitress at Ippolitos, and Echols told the owner, Dick Cunningham, that the Italian restaurant would be her first job.

"I always told him I wanted to work there right when I turned 15," Echols said. "I even put up a little sign in his office that said, 'When I turn 15, you're hiring me.'"

Cunningham listened to the young Echols and she started out as a hostess a few nights a week while attending North Gwinnett High School.

Fast forward 11 years and the 26-year-old Echols is now a bartender one night a week at Ippolitos in Suwanee, located off Town Center Avenue. She said starting there at such a young age helped her learn about responsibility and dealing with different personalities. But most importantly, she said she's built a great relationship with Cunningham.

"He's a really great man and I've enjoyed working for him," Echols said, pointing out that Cunningham is there working every day. "At a lot of restaurants, the owner won't be there a lot. They'll be gone, but Dick cares so much about that business that he's there every night. Our dishwasher walked out one night and Dick was back there cleaning dishes."

Although Echols works at Ippolitos on Thursday nights only, she said she still gets plenty of regulars who come in to see her. One family of four in particular, she said, is her favorite.

"The Dods come in and you can just tell they really care about me," she said. "And they always take care of me. They go beyond where they need to go as far as tips go. They're just really good people and I love talking to them."

When she's not at Ippolitos, Echols is a CrossFit coach at the No Excuses gym off of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road. She started going there to work out about three years ago and she said CrossFit, which combines weightlifting with gymnastics mixed with cardio, completely changed her life.

"I was about 25 pounds heavier," Echols said. "I had gained a lot of weight after high school and after I tore my ACL. I had just started running and I needed a change. I loved it so much and I ended up losing 25 pounds. I'm still a work in progress and I still have a lot I'd like to change. Of course, it takes time and patience."

If you're wondering if Echols has any free time with everything she has on her plate -- she also works for her parents' glass company in Buford -- she said she has more than you would think.

"Honestly, I have a lot of free time because I schedule my own hours at the gym and I have weekends off. I have Saturday and Sunday completely off to do whatever Liz wants to do," she said.

Tori Boone, who lives in Suwanee, is a copy editor for the Daily Post. Email her at tori.boone@gwinnettdailypost.com.