Editor’s note: Gayle Lamb, Dining Services cash operations manager for 26 years, contributed this blog to The Scroll.
The excitement is building for Dining Services to move into the new Anderson Student Center in January. During the last 100 days of The Grill’s life in Murray-Herrick Campus Center, we will remember the history of this popular dining space and want to hear your favorite memories.
When I came to St. Thomas, I had not worked in an academic setting for serving food. There were less than 6,800 students enrolled at the time. My first impression of The Grill was that it was so institutional. The tile walls were blue and grey, and the menu was a standard burger and fries and limited sandwiches. We also served hot roast beef sandwiches, one entrée, soup and chili at lunch.
During my second year at St. Thomas, I finally had a feel for what atmosphere The Grill could have with some attention and menu changes. We introduced new menu items, worked with vendors on marketing ideas and developed a strategy to refresh the space.
Staffing of The Grill has varied over the years. In the late 1980s, we had a difficult time finding employees. A Kurdish man from Kazakhstan who spoke very little English worked the sandwich bar after coming to us through a program for refugees. Betty, who had not been in the workforce for some time, also worked the sandwich bar. The cook is usually the first person seen by customers; there have been a few cooks over the years, but certainly Tony King was the most memorable.
The Grill has survived power outages, floods, smoking, a smoking room, an Open Meal Plan, menu changes, food specials, meal plan days and snow days.
One year, we celebrated Spring Fling Week with fun food treats, but the best part was that our student staff was comprised of young men from India and Pakistan. I purchased flower headbands and made lavender flower power aprons, which the students wore. Every customer had a smile on their face when they saw the students wearing these spring outfits, and we all had a lot of laughs.
International Week always provides a chance to prepare food from the countries of international students who work for us. I have involved them in planning and sometimes cooking traditional dishes from their home countries. We have served food from every continent. The favorite is when we feature the “Chinese Buffet.”
We have always stressed to our students that by working in Dining Services and especially The Grill, they are learning life skills. Students have said that after working with us for a semester, they have gone home and cooked for their families. Having unsure freshmen come to us looking for a job, hiring them and seeing them mature during their time with us is just great. They make life-long friends, talk to professors and develop friendships with staff. Many students come back to visit, and there are always those requests for job references.
As I look at The Grill now, I see a room that has been a great community gathering space. It is a comfortable room, whether you are meeting friends, studying or welcoming visitors and alumni.
However, now it is time to move on. We are repairing equipment, replacing ceiling tile and coloring in the missing formica countertop pieces with green magic markers. The room has served the university community very well.
What are your memories of The Grill? Your favorite food? A special employee? Let us know.