News Date: 
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Feeding the masses at UGA

Source: Athens Banner-Herald

By Wayne Ford

For the Athens Banner-Herald

September 1, 2004

Mike Floyd, the man in charge of the dining halls at the University of Georgia where about 30,000 meals a day are prepared, grew up the son of a career military man.

But he doesn't consider himself a cook, nor does he like the old military term "mess hall."

If people wandered through the domain where food is served on campus, they would see a food program that has won 50 awards during the past 17 years, including the prestigious Pinnacle Award recognizing the top institutional restaurants in the nation.

"No other college has won more than we have," Floyd said of the Horton Award, administered by the National Association of College and University Food Services.

Floyd has used the same office in Snelling Hall since he came to UGA in 1987 as head of Food Services. The office is decorated with awards and mementos of a career that actually began when he was a student working in the dining hall at Valdosta State University.

UGA students now are back in town and it's common to find Floyd wandering the various dining halls and talking to students about the food. Often he's wearing a shirt with the insignia "Let the Big Dawg Eat." It's a motto he adopted soon after coming to Georgia.

"That's what we do. We feed the Dawgs - from the football team to the students, faculty and staff," he said.

And he listens to the students. Sometimes their opinions result in items on the menu.

"Several years ago, some students were asking, 'Why don't you serve ravioli all the time?' We realized we had so many students who (were) latch-key kids. They come home from school and mom and dad are not there. Their snack is a can of Chef Boy-ar-dee ravioli. So we serve Chef Boy-ar-dee and they eat a ton of it," he said.

But canned ravioli is a farcry from most of the food on the menu, much of which is prepared to order for students. And some of the most popular are dishes emerging from the "Recipes from Home" program. Food service sends out letters to student's parents asking for favorite recipes and it's not unusual for the department to receive 600 replies.

"We select about 110 of those to feature on a special day and the very best of those we incorporate into our standard menu," Floyd said. "We take their recipe for six to eight servings and send them back a recipe for 6,000 servings." And the parent gets a commemorative plate.

The dining halls at UGA - Bolton, Snelling, Oglethorpe and Joe Frank Harris Commons - are not the ol' mess hall where everything is dumped on a plate on a serving line.

"There are many choices and environments," Floyd said. "You can order a pepperoni pizza or order one cooked to order. It's not like the old serving line where you took what was there."

"We want to attract students to different dining centers. Some campuses require students eat at certain places and here (on the meal plan) they can eat at any one of four dining commons," he said.

Floyd never expected a career in food services. With a father in the U.S. Marines, he lived in several states and in Italy.

"I had moved 18 times by the time I graduated from high school. One year I was in four different high schools," said Floyd, who has made Oconee County his home. Both of his sons, Andrew and Stephen, attended school in the county from first through 12th grades. Both now attend UGA.

While his sons were able to make life-long friends, Floyd said he also made many friends through the years.

"You learn quickly that you have to be the person to step forward and shake a person's hand. You learn you have to be more outgoing," he said about attending so many schools.

After graduating from Harlem High School near Augusta, he went to Valdosta State.

"The first year I was there, I needed some spending money so I got a job in the college cafeteria, which was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. It opened a career for me," he said.

By the end of his freshman year, he had been promoted to student manager, a job in which he managed all 75 students working in the cafeteria. His boss, Ron Duberly, encouraged him to stay in the business.

Floyd remembers him saying, "You have a talent. You should be in this industry."

So Floyd, who had studied education with an eye toward being a history teacher, went into the food industry. His first college job was at Freed-Hardeman College in Tennessee and from there he went to Pearl River Junior College in Mississippi. He had married Susan Bell of Sycamore in Turner County in 1978, and the next year the couple returned to Valdosta where Floyd became director of food services at his alma mater.

Duberly, a native of Waycross, had taken a job over food services at Appalachian State University, a position he still holds.

"He was an outstanding individual," Duberly said about Floyd. "In everything he did, he did it well. He made an impression on me, and when I left Valdosta State, they asked me to help find my replacement - he was my first thought. He's probably the best I've ever worked with."

While at Valdosta, Floyd attended classes at night for a master's degree in business administration. The food service won eight Horton Awards while he managed the operation. Then in 1986, he was offered the job at UGA.

"It was a feeling that this is where I was meant to be. That sounds corny, but I feel like this is where my career was leading me," he said.

"I always tell people I'm one of the lucky people that fell into their careers. It's a passion, it's not really a job. I love what I do," he said. "I have a great staff. They really care for the students."

The only restaurant in his family dates back a few years.

"My grandfather (Wylie Floyd) actually had a restaurant. A place called Floyd's Hamburger Shack. My parents are both originally from Fitzgerald. Grandpa's been dead since '75 and the family sold the business under the family name. And although it's been moved, it's still (in Fitzgerald.)," he said.

Outside his occupation, Floyd is involved with Boy Scout Troop 149 in Watkinsville. Every two years, he joins the scouts on a trip to the rugged mountains of Philmont, N.M., where they make a two-week backpacking trip.

"I enjoy the scenery," he said, "but what I enjoy the most is seeing the boys learn to do something to gain a confidence in their own skills. They come off the trail 12 days later and there is a stride they have. They've accomplished something few boys their age dream of doing."

And its rare for a college campus to have a dining service such as Floyd has developed at UGA.

"At Georgia we call them dining commons because it's a term for a gathering place," he said. "We want students to come together to dine and socialize, and because our program is free-flow and unlimited access, they can come in as many times as they want and there's something open from 7 a.m. to midnight. Very few college campuses allow their students unlimited access, and I'm not aware of any other college campus that lets their students use their meal plan as late as midnight."

Floyd said he enjoys the interaction with students.

"Being in an academic environment and working on a college campus keeps you young. You're constantly exposed to the brightest and smartest minds, and to this day, I feel like an educator because I'm not only feeding students, but I'm educating them on eating habits and providing new choices on foods they haven't been exposed to before."

That includes programs like "Recipes from Home."

"What it does is create ownership for the students and parents about the food program," he said.