Serving up salads and smiles with Chris O’Neal

October 3, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Sodexo employee Chris O’Neal discusses what makes Bethel a great workplace

Culture | Cherie Suonvieri

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Sodexo's gentle giant, Chris O'Neal, is all smiles when he serves salads to students in the dining center. | Photo for The Clarion by Kristine Schmidt

As students slide their trays along the salad bar during weeknight dinner in the DC, they are greeted with a warm smile from a man who towers above a majority of them—Chris O'Neal. In prior years, O'Neal was found cooking omelets during breakfast, but he made the move to building salads this semester. Regardless of the station he is at, O'Neal said he enjoys his job.

Known by most students for his positive attitude and joyful spirit, O'Neal said that he makes an intentional effort to create “a pleasant dining experience” for all who enter.

When asked what it is he enjoys about his job, O'Neal replied without hesitation—the students.

“I only get ten to fifteen seconds with them at a time…” he said. “It’s my way of touching them.”

One student said she ordered an omelet nearly every morning last year, and O'Neal quickly learned her order.

“[He] would ask, ‘The usual?’ and it would make me feel so special,” sophomore Ashley Aamot said. “The quality work that he did was really a testament to his character… His omelets were phenomenal and his attitude was even better.”

Sophomore Nate Parks noted how O'Neal has an ever-present bounce in his step.

“He just seems like he’s always genuinely interested in you, and he’s always so jubilant,” he said. “He’s always ready and happy to serve you.”

O'Neal explained that his positive attitude comes primarily from his mother. Growing up, he was the youngest of eight children; he had seven older sisters. “So I had eight mommas, and a lot of know-how,” he said with a smile.

Having grown up in Georgia, O'Neal’s original reason for coming to the Midwest was to play basketball for University of Wisconsin-River Falls. A turn of events landed him in the Twin Cities where he is a father of two children, Jaxon Christopher and Christopher Joseph.

When he’s not at work, O'Neal says he turns into an instant dad, though the hours he spends in the DC sometimes conflict with the time he could spend with his children. “I try to get home, say prayers with them, if I can, and have 15 minutes of play time, if mom will allow it,” Chris said with a chuckle.

In addition to being a father, O'Neal also describes himself as a sports fanatic, a Steelers fan and a Vikings supporter.

O'Neal began working for Sodexo at Bethel three and a half years ago. Working with food runs in the family, he said. Two of his sisters own a catering service and his mother was once a part-time cafeteria worker.

Having been around food growing up, working with food seemed natural. According to O'Neal, the leadership in his workplace makes his job even easier. “I have a great staff that I work with,” O'Neal said, specifically mentioning Bob Schuchardt, head manager, and Justin Kaderlik, head chef.

O'Neal said another positive aspect of his work experience has been the Bethel and Sodexo family dynamic.

“My lady’s mom passed away [three weeks ago], and there’s been an outpouring of support from the staff here and even some of the students,” he said, explaining that they had received gifts of flowers. “It’s a great place to work. I don’t dread coming to work here at all… and I can honestly say that I couldn’t say that about any other place.”

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