Secrets Revealed: An Insider Look Behind the Scenes of the WCIU Cafeteria

It’s dinner time on Thursday – one of the busiest days for the William Carey International University cafeteria. Two long lines form on both sides of the room full of hungry students, teachers, parents, and children. Behind the scenes, the cooks rapidly finish the food to meet the demands of customers – many who are oblivious about the amount of work involved in feeding several hundred people per day. The goal of the cafeteria staff is to present quality product as quickly as possible, but like any business, there are challenges and plans for future improvement.

Victor Rosema has worked as the Food Service Supervisor and Executive Chef for 21 years and manages everything from hiring employees to purchasing supplies. Even though he is somewhat open to new food suggestions, he listed three factors that must be kept in mind when determining what to serve. First, the cost of the item must be taken into consideration. As Rosema said, “You probably won’t see lobster tails anytime soon.” Second, the workers must be able to produce the quantity required in a timely manner. In other words, labor intensive foods don’t work. Lastly, the food must be the type that is easy enough to serve quickly.

It is difficult to come up with enough options to satisfy all customers. Offering 40 different dishes is simply not possible with such limited time, money, and employees. However, Rosema’s goal is to put out enough choices to make most people happy without breaking the bank. He also takes dietary needs into consideration, letting the cooks experiment with food items such as glutton-free brownies. Josh Dykstra, cook and student at Providence Christian College, likes the challenge of cooking new foods and the creativity he can show when making some of the smaller dishes.

While Dykstra does have a chance to be creative while making small dishes, the most time consuming part of his job is food preparation. He claimed that the two main requirements as a cook are the ability to multitask and avoid slicing fingers as food is chopped and peeled. It is necessary to do preparation activities such as these the day before in order to have what Rosema calls, “Stuff in place.”

Yet, no matter how much preparation is accomplished, challenges such as meal rushes can still cause long waits full of anxious people wondering what is holding up the line. What many do not understand is that the cooks and servers can only do so much. Long lines are sometimes unavoidable when everyone comes at once or a dish is not ready in time. Dykstra reflected that he has had to spend extra hours working when customers arrive within the last couple of minutes before the end of meal time. But, like any job, there are good days and bad days for Dykstra. He acknowledges the challenges that come with working in the cafeteria, but also enjoys working with fresh supplies and making food that people can enjoy.

The freshness of the product is of utmost importance to Rosema. He frequents farmers markets in the area to purchase fresh produce and makes it a priority to find fresh ingredients. Even food supplied from manufactures is traced back to its original source for quality purposes.

Not only is the food fresh, but most food is made from scratch. Dykstra stated that the goal is to make homemade quality food “in mass.” He wants to bring a little piece of home to everyone. Knowing what it is like being away from home for six years; Dykstra wants to make people feel more at home through the food he makes.

Rosema offers homemade quality food with fresh fruits and vegetables served daily. But how does he afford the prices of fresh produce while keeping meal prices reasonable? Rosema explained that he orders a good supply at reasonable prices. Prices tend to fluctuate so if one type of food is out of season or too costly, other options are available. Even though meat prices continue to increase, he doesn’t see this as a determining factor in cutting down the amount served. He stated that people may decide to choose other foods besides meat so that eventually, the demand for it may decrease. His goal is to provide a healthy variety of foods while making his customers happy.

Food prices are not Rosema’s main concern. The hardest part is attracting and keeping good workers while having enough cash flow to pay them. Trija Barot has been working in the cafeteria since she moved to California from Bangladesh in 2001. Frequent meal buyers may know her as the lady who remembers everyone’s name, but many people do not know hers. She has worked mainly behind the cash register, diligently checking off people from the meal plan lists, but she has also helped with cooking and preparation of the salad bar. She feels at home working in the cafeteria and has had a good experience overall. However, Barot feels that some workers do not take their job seriously. Some workers may slack off or only do what they are required to do without helping in other areas.

Rosema takes equal employment seriously. He has hired a couple of people with special needs to clean on weekdays. Dykstra stated that it is a true blessing to have them around especially when he is having a bad day and one of them says something sweet that makes his day a little brighter.

Barot also enjoys working with different kinds of people and desires to be friends with those she works with. She loves interacting with the customers as well and believes God sent her to work in the cafeteria for that reason.

As the manager, Rosema handles the hiring and training process as well as determines what to purchase and serve. Just like any good manager, he is constantly looking for ways to improve his business. Currently, the major consideration for future change is the transition of the cafeteria service to buffet style. There are pros and cons regarding this plan. One negative aspects is that people may take too much of more expensive items. Also, another meal would have to be recorded for “to-go” boxes, even if the box is just full of leftovers, to ensure that customers do not eat one meal and go back for seconds without paying for that second meal. Yet, some benefits include cutting down on labor costs and speeding up the serving process.

Despite these concerns, Dykstra stated that there is not much to improve on. The staff is helpful and the food is fresh. What is more, he has the satisfaction of seeing people enjoy his food and fellowship with each other. This is what makes his job worthwhile even on a crowded Thursday evening.