Students are much more than customers at campus cafeteria (slideshow 2)
By Kyle Vuille
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
In her fifth year of running the Jolly Roger Galley, Karen Ryan, an independent contractor who runs the food service at Dawson Community College, said the college students there mean the world to her.
“They’re amazing, the students,” Ryan said. “They’re the reason I get up out of bed every day and I’m not a morning person.”
Ryan said with the college’s policy of a mandatory meal plan for the students living in the dorms, she sees the dorm residents at least once a day, and some as many as five or six times.
Ryan currently has six individuals on her staff, three full time and two part time, and only has one rule for them: Treat the students like they are gold.
“The first week of school, we try to get to know everyone on a first name basis,” Ryan said. “It’s important to get to know them.”
Ryan wakes up at 5 a.m. for those five days a week to get ready for the day with the food service counter opening at 7 a.m.
“We sell breakfast burritos like I don’t understand,” exclaimed Ryan.
Ryan said Jolly Roger sells a lot of chicken strips, hamburgers and cheeseburgers during the course of lunch and dinner, but she said the most requested junk food from students is chicken nuggets. Ryan buys them by the case and sells them just as fast as she buys them. She joked that the students probably miss McDonald’s.
Ryan’s kitchen offers 50-plus food items. She said she has been faced with a challenge with the lack of food storage space throughout the years as she works hard to accommodate more students every year with a wider variety of tastes.
“I’ve bought two more freezers since just this August,” Ryan said.
She said she’s actually purchased six personal freezers since she’s been at the college and even the pie case was purchased with the intention of it having a dual purpose, a pie case and somewhere to store food because the lack of a walk-in cooler and bigger freezers.
Ryan noted she usually has to take a trip to Albertsons at least three times a day to pick up fresh items like fruits and vegetables because of the lack of storage space she has for such items.
However, she doesn’t put the blame on anyone for the way the kitchen was built because the meal plan and extensive menu wasn’t in place when the kitchen was originally built.
“For the size of the kitchen and equipment, it never ceases to amaze me how much food comes out of that kitchen,” Ryan noted.
Despite being at the college for only five years, Ryan is no stranger to the food service industry. She started working as a waitress at the age of 13 under Curt Meeds at the Jordan Inn. She worked her way up to positions such as restaurant manager, banquet manager and lounge manager in her 23 years of working there.
“(Meeds) was an amazing teacher,” Ryan said. “He passed some years ago, but I still ask myself ‘what would Curt do?’”
After her time at the Jordan, she owned and operated the Montana Inn for five years.
Her first experience working at the college was when the college hosted a summer one-week program called Elder Hostel for people 55 years or older where they stayed at the college to learn about Eastern Montana. She said the program lead to the Gear Up program at the college as well.
“When the food service bid came up, I put a bid in,” Ryan said.
For Ryan, it’s not about the trips to Albertsons or the struggle of finding space in coolers and freezers that stand out, she said feeding the kids and being there around them is very rewarding.
“They’re (often) hugging me,” Ryan said. “I’m in their phones as ‘Mom’ a lot of the time.”