The bell rings, signaling the end of third period. The rumble of freshmen feet vibrate the floors of the hall. Congregating in the cafeteria, they line up for the food. The lunch staff, standing ready, prepares for the influx of students over the next several hours.
I had a chance to sit down with Mr. Stephen Traynor, owner of Gold Coin Vending and Catering, and get the inside scoop on the cafeteria staff.
Can you tell me a little about the story of the cafeteria staff?
Traynor- “My mother and father started the company as a vending company and we’ve been the only food service company that’s been here [at Jesuit] except for two years. It started back in the day, I had a couple aunts who worked right around that corner. It slowly materialized and Jesuit built a kitchen so it gained more of a serving line atmosphere. We actually only had one serving line up until about eight years ago…So my father started the company, we used to have several other schools; we had Bishop Lynch, Ursuline, Bishop Dunne. We had Bishop Lynch until about four years ago. Around 1996, we ended service at Ursuline and about four years ago we lost Bishop Lynch to another company. We also had Bishop Dunne for a few years in the late ’90s.”
It sounds like a very family oriented venture.
Traynor- “Oh yeah, mostly family works for us; Helen, she’s my aunt, she’s one of my dad’s sisters and Margie she’s been working for us for over twenty years. I’ve had other family members work for me over here. Sometimes a cousin who works for three or four years during a transition period in their life. They’ll stay for a few years or whatever and move on. But they sometimes stick around. I mean, Helen can still run things and she’s eighty years old!”
How does the growth of the school affect what happens in the cafeteria?
Traynor-“Every year here it’s just be constant, steady growth. The growth dramatically changes things around here. I mean, we used to only have four members on staff here. But it also helps, like today I expect this many boys to get pizza and I’ll be within 8 to 10 pizzas of that. We never ever try to run out. And they’re talking about doing upgrades to kitchen in the next few years. What we’re looking at is revamping the serving line. We’re looking at going to a third line system to where we got an extra line. We kinda want it to be like a lounge atmosphere. Also the longer lunch periods, we switched to longer lunches a few years ago, have helped immensely. We also want some lounge chairs and make it where the kids can come in and relax. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
What are some of the other new changes you want to see?
Traynor- “We are looking adding a salad bar. The thing about a salad bar is, our health scores are impeccable here and you have three, four hundred boys here for salad. Do they all wash their hands? You need to have a specific person detailed to the salad bar and a cashier as well. We also are looking at adding extra condiment carts where the kids can get lettuce and such. We want to be more user-friendly to the students. Sometimes, kids will drop by early morning and ask for a salad with this on it or a sandwich without this on it. And we’ve got to cater to the needs of all the students and not just a specific group.”
What’s a normal day on the cafeteria like?
Traynor- “There’s no such thing as a normal day in the cafeteria. Generally, our day starts at 4 or 4:30 a.m. and myself and Aunt Helen will arrive for some general prep work and we start cooking at 5. And we always have breakfast ready at 6:45. Then, every day we have supply trucks coming in. We have trucks arriving from 5 to 6 in the morning. And that kinda backs us up until about 7:45. Then we start thinking about lunch, and we all have specific roles, for example, Aunt Helen … does all the sandwiches that you see and runs errands for me, and Margie is pretty much my baker and my salad maker. It always seems we’re running out of something so every day that adds a Sam’s trip or a Restaurant Depot trip. Then, we roll into lunch and it’s a process. And you just kinda get into it. We’re a well-oiled machine, we know what to expect. Then we sit around 2 or 2:30 for our lunch to talk about the day or whatever. And get orders in or processing stuff. The day doesn’t really end there. We’ve got to get orders together, then when we leave here, we don’t just go home. It’s more trips, but for it to work, that’s what’s gotta happen. We also handle all the catering around here too. We do a lot of the sports banquets along with teacher in-services and the like. Maybe once or twice a week, we’ll be here until 9 or 10. So, you know, [a] normal day is about 4:30 in the morning to 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Then you get up and start all over the next day. ”
Are there any specific days which are more hectic than others?
Traynor- “Pizza day. Pizza day is a mess, and Taco Tuesday is a big hit. But we’ve got it down to where we know what to expect. They’re predictable. Some of these kids [come] from schools where they don’t have many choices and they get here and don’t even know what they can get. A lot of the what we call the “freshman meal”: two corn dogs and fries. I started the boneless wings two years ago. And I can’t cook enough boneless wings, though. I do about 150 pounds of wings on Tuesdays. And I’ll have about eleven trays of just pizza then too. I mean, yeah, Taco Tuesday is a huge deal, but definitely pizza and wing day is the craziest.”
What keeps you coming back every day?
Traynor- “I enjoy it, I mean you get used to it. I know Mike Earsing, he knew me growing up and he was really good friends with my father. I actually had graduated from college and was an academic probation officer in Austin. Then, my dad was struck with some bad health and everything. I took a leave of absence in 1999 for about six months because I swore I was never gonna do this growing up. I came back and mom unexpectedly got sick and passed away within a couple weeks, so Mike [Earsing] said that my dad was in bad shape. And, he asked me if I would do it for a couple years. It just grew on me. It’s really amazing to watch freshman and then turn around and see them as seniors. I can remember every single one of the class as freshmen. And I know we provide a good service. Sometimes even parents will call me and tell me their kids have stopped eating breakfast at their house. That’s really what makes you come back, it’s something that we really pride ourselves on. It is what it is: it’s gratifying. It’s long hours, but a lot of good jobs are long hours I can always see all of them scared straight as freshmen and then they grow up to be men as seniors”.
Why Jesuit? What’s so appealing about it?
Traynor- “It’s the kids that are here. We emphasize trying to put names to faces. They’re all personable. Sometimes, I’ll see students outside at some pizza joint and they’ll say ‘hi’. It’s really the culture here, with faculty eating with us. The standards here are so high and it’s not a traditional school by any means. Even the students… Some students will come back and remember us and tell us that the food at their college is nowhere near what Jesuit is.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
Traynor- “Well, I want to make sure there’s a good focus on everyone, especially on my Aunt Helen; she’s my godmother. I mean, she used to count change with my dad when we first started in 1966. She was here from the beginning. And now we’re starting to see these moms who have kids here come back and say ‘oh my God that’s Helen the lunch lady from Ursuline’ from her days back at Ursuline. And that’s cool to see. And Margie is the same way, some will come up and say hello. And it’s hard from a business standpoint since I own the company there’s no way it would happen without every single one of them. We really depend on one another and we never let each other down. And at the end of the day, you’re family.”
The lunch staff continues to do amazing things every day for the student body. Make sure to take a moment to thank them for all their hard work.