W2MK: Colleen Everhart

Itawamba Community College Food Service Manager Colleen Everhart’s kitchen feeds some 600 or so people each and every day during the school year. Although she’s too busy to spend much time preparing food herself, she does oversee the kitchens in Fulton and Tupelo, and manages the concession stands. She also oversees her kitchen’s catering service.

Colleen Everhart’s kitchen is a bit of a marvel. It’s huge, spotless and filled with professional grade equipment.

It’s a shame she doesn’t get to do much cooking in it.

As Food Service Manager at Itawamba Community College, most of Everhart’s time in the kitchen isn’t spent hovering over a stove top or crouched in front of an oven. It’s delegating. It’s answering questions. It’s managing chaos.

And paperwork. Who could forget that?

“In this job, you have to be a paper pusher,” Everhart said from a seat inside the Fulton-based community college’s expansive dining area. Even at noon, the space was mostly empty on a Wednesday during the summer. A handful of students trickled in to snag a quick lunch. A few others were huddled around a table near the back.

When school resumes for the fall semester, the space will be packed. Everhart said her kitchen staff will prep and serve food to 700-some-odd students every weekday. She motioned to the semi-circle of counters at the front of the lunchroom, each featuring a different menu. Because ICC’s kitchen serves so many students, they have to offer foods to suit the widest variety of tastes – pizza, sandwiches, hamburgers, fajitas, baked goods, salads. They’re about to start offering a larger selection of vegan options.

And that’s only part of her job. Everhart is also in charge of the school’s concession stands, and she oversees the kitchen at ICC’s Tupelo campus. She’s responsible for scheduling and organizing her kitchen’s various catering jobs, too. In total, she has a staff of around 30 people – from chefs to cashiers – working under her.

Everhart’s job is akin to simultaneously overseeing multiple restaurants, each with a completely different style of menu.

“It’s a lot,” she said of her daily workload. Communication and organization are key to keeping the place running smoothly.

“I live by the calendar and Post-it Notes,” she said. “I’m usually running every which direction.”

In other words, she doesn’t have much time to cook herself. Not that she doesn’t enjoy it when she gets the chance.

“I come from a big family. Cooking has always been a part of it,” the Indiana native said. “My mother always cooked a lot for church. We always had a lot of people over at the house.”

She’s inherited her mother’s love of entertaining. When she’s inside her kitchen … the one at home, that is … it’s often because guests are coming over.

Everhart’s been working in the food service industry for less than a decade. Her first food-related job was at Gigi’s Cupcakes in Tupelo. Seven years ago, she took a job with Sodexo, the food service company contracted by ICC to run its lunchrooms and concession stands. She’s been with the company ever since.

Although she doesn’t have the opportunity to cook much herself – she will, from time to time, help out around the kitchen by cutting vegetables or tossing a dish in the oven – Everhart has the same kind of passion for food as a chef (of which, her kitchen has at least two).

“You’ve got to make sure your clients are happy. No matter how busy you are, food quality has to stay up,” she said.

She enjoys keeping abreast of trends in food, and likes garnering feedback from students about what they like to eat. Each semester, she’ll host a small panel of students to evaluate what her kitchen’s serving and how it can be improved. She’ll use that feedback to adjust her menus. It’s an important part of keeping her kitchen profitable and relevant.

“You’ve got to give the kids options,” she said. “You’ve got to keep changing it up.”

Her days are long and frequently exhausting, but Everhart said there’s satisfaction in the work she does.

And it’s not like she totally eschews cooking. When the day’s done and she’s at home with her husband, the two of them enjoy creating food together.

They mostly do it on the grill. Outdoors. Away from the kitchen.

adam.armour@journalinc.com Twitter: @admarmr

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