Mary Parker got her first food service job for the same reason many young adults do. She was 16, in high school and was looking for a job.
“I was just looking for a job to start getting out on my own,” said Parker. “I was always raised that you pretty much take care of yourself. You can’t depend on really anyone. You have to just go out there and make your own, and that’s what I was pretty much just trying to do, so I got the job here.”
Parker has now worked at Armstrong Student Center for three years, after being hired on full-time after graduating high school. She is a Food Service Assistant at Pulley Diner where she stocks food, monitors labeling and oversees student employees, among other responsibilities.
With work, and a small apartment that she shares with her nearly two-year-old daughter, she’s busy.
“I’m pretty much working, taking care of my family and living my life. I’m just making sure I’ve got everything I need to be able to live and to hopefully go to school one day. Take everyday one step at a time. So much going on, especially here,” said Parker, gesturing to the busy Pulley Diner seating area. “So much.”
When Parker isn’t working, she likes to find time for two of her favorites hobbies – reading and cooking – oftentimes pulling recipes off social media outlets like Facebook and Pinterest.
“I like to read because it’s relaxing, and I feel like an escape from the world, said Parker, “Cooking is just fun to me. It’s like an adventure because you have to make sure you’re doing everything right.”
Whether Parker is trying a new recipe at home, or working at Armstrong, she enjoys the challenge of building a meal from scratch, saying cooking is like a “work of art.” It should taste good but also should look good and be prepared with care. And when it all comes together, it doesn’t hurt to hear some kind words from patrons who take the time to share.
“It’s just something nice to me, to be able to make something,” said Parker, “One day someone told us, ‘You guys are doing a great job back there,’ so things like that too. When people actually show they appreciate what we do and actually notice it, it’s nice. It’s just the little things.”
Pulley Diner is one of the most trafficked dining spots on campus, which can make it a busy location for students and the staff working behind the counter. However, Parker recognizes the challenges students face and understands that their priorities aren’t quite so far from hers and her coworkers.
“We realize [students are] coming here to try to go to class, get something to eat and leave, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help them get out in a timely manner,” said Parker. “We’re just the same as them. We’re working here to provide for our families, trying to pay our bills, just like they’re trying to do by going to school. They’re trying to soon provide for their own families and pay their bills to make sure their life is going to be okay and taken care of. We’re just like them. We’re not that different.”
The Hard Questions
Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?
Prepare – Omelettes. It’s an artistic sort of thing. You use just the right amount of each ingredient and it looks so pretty.
Eat – Mein Street stir-fry.
Favorite TV Show? Supernatural.
Cat or dog? Dog. My dad raised dogs and hated cats.
Cake or pie? Pie. There’s more variety of flavors.