While some people boast about knowing absurd amounts of sports or history trivia, Claremont McKenna College’s Collins Dining Hall supervisor Ezekiel Chavez prides himself on knowing many names of students and instructors. In fact, he claims he knows more names than any other dining hall worker.
Although the tall, dark-haired 40-year-old said he’s a “rookie” compared to other staff members who’ve been at Collins for 10-20 years, Chavez has been greeting students for almost three years now.
“Working at Collins, it’s a good atmosphere,” he said, smiling while still wearing his black hat from work with his straight hair tucked back. “That’s why you have people who have been there that long.”
Chavez, a Rancho Cucamonga native, wrestled in high school and attended Chaffey College for a few years before starting in hospitality management, where he’s been for the past 15 years. He’s also fluent in American Sign Language for his younger sister who is deaf.
Previously a general manager for Buffalo Wild Wings in Rancho Cucamonga, Chavez said the significant pay cut he took to come to CMC was worth it, noting the close proximity to his home in Montclair as well as the dental and medical benefits he receives.
“When you work at a retail shop, you don’t really get that kind of benefit,” he said. “You have to pay out of pocket for those things. Working for the school, you get so much more.”
As for the job itself, Chavez works 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday — setting up breakfast, getting shifts covered if someone calls in sick, and reporting attendance after meals.
He said the Collins staff keeps track of how many students from each college eat at Collins to have an idea of how much food to provide the following year.
One recent day, for example, Collins had around 700 visitors.
“We have a projection of around 700 [people], so we know how much food to prepare for that day next year,” Chavez said.
Aside from these duties, he also prepares custom orders for students.
“There’s a lot of students who are from the South,” Chavez said. “They like Creole food, and we don’t serve too much of it. So maybe one day out of the week, we can accommodate that for them.”
Sometimes, though, students crave comfort foods not out of homesickness, but because they want to go into a test feeling good, and having strawberries and whipped cream for breakfast will do that.
As if on cue, a student stopped to confirm with Chavez about a special meal pickup at Collins that evening. Chavez’s response: “You got it!”
Not only is he accommodating to students — he’s also observant. Chavez said he notices a change in students’ attitudes at different points in the semester.
“In the beginning of the year, everybody is happy and perky. But around midterms and finals, people are a little more serious,” he said. “Even sometimes if you say hi, they’re so much in the zone that they don’t even realize you say hi to them.”
Generally, however, Chavez said 5C students are more respectful than customers at Buffalo Wild Wings.
“We had a lot of crazy people going into Buffalo Wild Wings,” he said. “You have to deal with profanity. You have to deal with obnoxious people, people spilling beers and getting drunk. Whereas, right here, people have a little bit more respect.”
Some of these respectful people are also professors whom Chavez has befriended. He describes them as “some of the best mathematicians in the world.”
“Just the connections that you make working at Collins are great,” Chavez said. “You’re surrounding yourself with people that have good ambitions and motivate and inspire you to do better.”
And although being a supervisor would usually require a college degree, Chavez said he got the job by having equivalent experience. But, landing the position was no easy feat.
Altogether, Chavez said it took about a year from the time he found the job posting on Craigslist to getting hired. While he didn’t seriously consider the job at first, Chavez, whose father is a Harvey Mudd College alum, was more eager to apply once he discovered the position was at The Claremont Colleges.
As for the future, Chavez said he plans to continue working at Collins.
“The quality of life is good,” he said. “So, why change something that’s good?”