Evans Dining Hall workers serve up smiles


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Stephen Giuffrida cuts a cantaloupe to prepare for a meal in Evans kitchen.
Stephen Giuffrida cuts a cantaloupe to prepare for a meal in Evans kitchen.

Bryce Olden | Reporter
Aug. 30, 2016; 7 a.m.

Stephen Giuffrida, a former New York chef who now is in charge behind the scenes of Evans dining hall, took an unlikely route to Lindenwood.

In college, he majored in journalism so he could follow in the footsteps of his grandfather who worked for “The New York Times.” But Giuffrida never took a job in journalism; instead he gravitated toward hospitality.

“I took a job in the hotel industry — it was a conference center — and I really didn’t enjoy that,” he said. “I kind of got attracted to the back of the house, the cooking side of it, and then I just kind of fell in love with it.”

Giuffrida was hired by Playboy Resorts, where he was put through months of extensive training in the kitchen. His breakthrough moment as a chef came when he did a cooking exhibition with TV personality Regis Philbin on “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.”

Giuffrida, who is a Yankees fan, said he was excited when he learned that another guest on the show that day was Mickey Mantle, a former outfielder now in the Hall of Fame.

“So I was in the back in the green room with him,” he said. “That was my first inclination that I bet that this could be pretty cool.”

After experiencing some success in New York, Giuffrida had a setback when he got a 4 a.m. call telling him that the restaurant where he worked had burned to the ground.

Giuffrida decided to make a fresh start in St. Louis, where his wife is from, and he quickly saw some major differences in the cooking scene here.

“In New York city there are seven or eight restaurants on every block,” he said. “You can go in for Indian food, Thai food, Lebanese food. You can walk out of your apartment, walk down the street and have anything you want. Here it’s more planning … the diversity isn’t there.”

Giuffrida said that St. Louis also favors a more family-oriented way of eating, leading to more chain restaurants instead of culture-centric places. In addition, Giuffrida said it has been a transition going from cooking in New York for then-President Bill Clinton, the 1986 world champion Mets and Walter Cronkite to the students at Lindenwood, who more often than not tend to be his harshest critics.

“You would like to please everybody, but it’s hard to do,” he said. “You know they’re away from home, and it’s an international community.”

Giuffrida’s eagerness to take on the task of feeding the student body at LU is what caused Director of Dining Services Nancy Tinker to bring him on.

“What I like the most about Chef Steve is that he is the real deal when it comes to growing, planting and using fresh ingredients when he can,” Tinker said. “His focus is on taste and flavor profiles.”

Tinker said Giuffrida’s experience not only at nice restaurants, but at places that served large crowds made him a good fit to feed the students at Lindenwood.

“I liked the fact that Chef Steve was looking for a home and not a job,” she said.
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Julie Feesler greets a student with a smile while scanning IDs in Evans Dining Hall.

Alexandra Napoli | Reporter
Aug. 30, 2016; 7 a.m.

After retiring from 25 years of teaching, Julie Feesler said she needed to find a new purpose in her life. She joined her son Frankie Feesler, a dish washer in Evans Cafeteria, working for Pedestal Foods at Lindewood three years ago and said her new goal is to make a positive impact on students.

The most important part of her job is to share a smile with every student who comes through her line, she said.

“Before long, I knew their names, their sports, the careers they’re planning to pursue and of course, how to get them to smile,” she said.

Director of Dining Services Nancy Tinker said this about Feesler: ”At the end of the day, to her it’s not about the food — it’s about the students.”

The students who affectionately call her “Miss Julie” enjoy her cheerfulness and her sense of humor.

“She can make anyone’s day better,” said junior Karly Bulla. “She cares so much for us, and that’s something that can be hard to find.”

Senior Paige Newman agreed.

“She truly makes a difference to the students,” she said.

Feesler said she wants them to know how much she genuinely cares about them.
It is that love for the students that has made Feesler excited about the new changes that have happened at Lindenwood dining, because she says the changes all center around improving the student experience.

One of Feesler’s favorite memories from working in Evans is when a chef told her that she was trending on Yik Yak, a social media app. Students posted about how much they appreciated all that Feesler does.

The Illinois native and her husband Frank moved to St. Charles after the birth of their first son.
They immediately fell in love with the historic charm and beauty of St. Charles and knew the community was the right place to raise their children, she said. Feesler said she loves shopping on Main Street and enjoying the great restaurants the city has to offer.

Before they were married, Feesler said her then-boyfriend asked her to the 1984 Cardinals opening day game. She said she knew she must have been a special girlfriend to be asked to that game. Now, in their 29 years of marriage, the two have never missed a Cardinals opening day.

The Cardinals fan is also a huge supporter of LU sports. The first Lindenwood game she attended was a volleyball game, and since then, multiple student athletes have also invited her to their games and competitions. Throughout the years, athletes have given her hoodies and T-shirts to help her show her Lion pride.

“When the players see me in the stands, they come up after the game and let me know that it meant a lot for me to be there,” she said.

She said that it can be hard for the parents of these student athletes to travel to all of their children’s games, so many of the athletes feel that similar support when Feesler attends their games.