Soft jazz music played as conversation and laughter rose and fell in the dimly lit dining room filled with the aroma of hot bread and Cabernet Sauvignon.

It seemed to be nothing more than another busy Monday evening at one of Lancaster’s fine dining restaurants, the Belvedere Inn, located in an 1869 Victorian Italianate mansion at 402 N. Queen St.

But that was about to change.

Dressed in black, 38-year-old Belvedere assistant general manager Lindsay Bretz-Morgan entered the dining room carrying a crème brûlée lit with candles. She placed it at an eight-person table in front of 90-year-old Stephen Fisher, who was celebrating his birthday and the publication of his new book, “Driven,” and she began singing “Happy Birthday” with Fisher’s family.

The chorus of voices ambled through the lyrics as happens daily at restaurants everywhere. But during the last line of the song, Bretz-Morgan’s voice crescendoed into a massive operatic sound wall that filled the high ceilings of the restaurant. The entire dining room fell into stunned silence and, a moment after the song ended, the room erupted into cheers.

“Her voice is magical,” said Belvedere general manager John Costanzo, pointing out that now that the word is out, diners request her as part of their reservations. “She’s on a whole other level. It’s like a Broadway star is singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you.”

The woman behind the voice is on a whole other level, too. With her beloved restaurants and stage shows coming back to life after a pandemic-prompted pause, Bretz-Morgan is balancing two management jobs, two shows, teaching voice lessons and learning everything she can in pursuit of her long-term goal – starting her own restaurant, which, of course, will have a focus on music.

An unlikely beginning

Bretz-Morgan was born in Middletown, the second child of Linda and Michael Bretz.

At 8 years old, Bretz-Morgan got her first solo at Wesley United Methodist Church in Middletown, which she said started her love for singing.

“My parents were super supportive, but they can’t sing,” she said. “They always tell people, ‘We don’t know where she gets it from.’”

After singing her first solo, she began voice lessons, dance lessons and starred in performances in middle and high school, while balancing waitress jobs starting when she reached 16.

In 2001, Bretz-Morgan attended Point Park University for musical theatre and worked in the university’s performing arts office to earn scholarship money.

“When I auditioned for Point Park, I was solely accepted for my voice. They were like, ‘Oh, she has a pretty voice; we can work on the other stuff.’”

The “other stuff” was musical theater, a learning challenge she accepted enthusiastically.

Following graduation she eventually landed at Elizabethtown’s Black Gryphon, which she helped run for seven years. It’s known for dining room theater shows, musicals and music reviews and Bretz-Morgan was a regular participant. She also served as a voice teacher at Lebanon Valley College for eight years, preparing high school students to audition for college.

Following her divorce in 2014, Bretz-Morgan moved to downtown Lancaster, a block from the Belvedere Inn, and left Lebanon to teach voice lessons from home.

She also landed a management job at the Lancaster County Coffee Roasters but had a strong desire to get a restaurant job to stay in touch with her love for restaurant work.

During a walk, Bretz-Morgan was drawn to the Belvedere by its beauty.

“I thought it was gorgeous,” said Bretz-Morgan. “I sat and had a drink and fell in love with the bartender, who’d been there since they opened. I was like, that’s saying something if employees stay that long. This must be an awesome place to work. And of course, they weren’t hiring.”

The Belvedere became Bretz-Morgan’s new hang out. She shared her restaurant management experience with Costanzo. Two years later he contacted her with an opening.

Bretz-Morgan started as a lunch server/bartender at the Belvedere and was soon recognized there for her singing talent when she did “Happy Birthday” for a guest.

Bretz-Morgan started singing for the general manager’s tables and eventually sang for co-workers and guests. When these opportunities arrive, almost daily, Bretz-Morgan said she sings in an operatic way to add a special flare.

As the song requests increased, Bretz-Morgan started a monthly Showtune Sundays at the Belvedere, where walk-ins and performers from local theatres like the Fulton and American Music Theatre come to sing.

COVID-19 shutdown

Bretz-Morgan’s love for singing and restaurant work was coming together well until COVID-19 hit.

Thousands of Lancaster County restaurant and entertainment workers like Bretz-Morgan lost their jobs – permanently or temporarily – when the pandemic hit, and those employment sectors have yet to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

Leisure and hospitality employment, which includes hotels, restaurants, bars, food service, dinner theaters, museums, amusement parks, performing arts companies and independent writers, artists and performers, was down 4,000 jobs from pre-pandemic levels, LNP | LancasterOnline reported in September.

Within the leisure and hospitality sector, the subsector of food services and drinking places, which includes bars, restaurants, caterers, dining halls, school and workplace cafeterias, remained down 2,900.

Due to state-mandated restrictions, her lead role in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Playhouse at Allenberry in Boiling Springs was postponed and the Belvedere temporarily closed in March 2020.

“I bartended the last day that we were open,” Bretz-Morgan said of the Belvedere. “I remember the general manager said, ‘Go home. It looks like we may be out of work for a while.’ I was all over the place and scared.”

Bretz-Morgan also stopped teaching voice lessons during COVID-19, which left her with no income for months. She said her savings got her through.

There was an upside, though. “Looking at the positives from that situation, I was forced to take a break and not be a crazy woman that worked 16 hours a day,” she said.

Sharing her light

In May 2020 the Lancaster County Coffee Roasters and the Belvedere reopened and Bretz-Morgan was one of the first employees to return to work.

Although the Belvedere was open for a time for pickup only, Bretz-Morgan found a way to share a special moment with Belvedere regulars, Patti and Mark Maurer, who have dined there twice a month for 15 years.

When the couple came to pick up their food, accompanied by a bottle of champagne from the staff in celebration of their 20th wedding anniversary, Bretz-Morgan sang their favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

“She has the voice of an angel. Her voice is rich and moving,” said Patti Maurer. “When she sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ it brought tears to my eyes.”

When the theatres reopened, Bretz-Morgan booked two shows, all while juggling two management positions, the monthly Showtune Sundays at the Belvedere, a voice teaching job and a music-booking job at the Belvedere.

Bretz-Morgan said it’s not easy juggling these jobs but it’s necessary as they give her the connections she needs to thrive.

Although things have been busy for Bretz-Morgan since the city reopened she said, she’s grateful and hopes to own a restaurant of her own someday that incorporates music.

But for now, she’s focused on sharing her talent, much to the delight of her fans.

“It’s not very often that you develop a relationship with your server to the extent that you’re inviting her to sit down with you at your table,” Patti Maurer said. “That’s just the kind of person Lindsay is. She’s one of those people that likes to share her light through music. She has a light inside of her when she sings.”

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