Jon Plodzik: Chasing the "wow"
Ralph Coughenour, director of culinary services, says Plodzik has been the motivator behind several changes to the menu, including the creation of an all-day breakfast concept, which helped increase participation.
“Jon is very much a visionary,” says Coughenour. “He sets the standards and allows us to execute them as we see fit. We have modified many of our concepts so that the food is customized for the students immediately. He has an ability to build a culture of excellence in both the culinary and service departments and he also shows compassion for our associates.”
Plodzik’s passion for his team is palpable. He is quick to credit them for any success the department has had.
“All I can do is spark the passion the staff has in them,” Plodzik says. “I’m not a foodie. If I were cooking, people would scream. They say ‘Jon paints with a big brush,’ but I don’t have the expertise to fill in the dots. My staff gives me a hard time because I was one of them, but I was fortunate enough to be chosen. But I value so much what they do. Students may not appreciate what this staff does for them right now. They may leave UNH without appreciating it. But if they think back to it along the road someday and they think, ‘wow, I had it good,’ then we’ve gotten the ‘wow.’ I’m going to get that ‘wow’ sooner or later.”
Not a foodie: Plodzik’s quest for the “wow” started when he used to sell soda at his brother’s baseball games.
“I was probably 13 or 14 and I would buy the soda and I sold it for a quarter a cup,” Plodzik says. “My bike had all these racks on it so I could carry the soda. That started me in the business. I always loved engaging and talking with people. I never was terribly shy.”
After his adventures selling soda, Plodzik didn’t work in foodservice again until he was a student at UNH, where he worked in dining to pay some of his bills. However, his stint in college dining didn’t convince him it was where he’d spend his career.
“I always thought of myself as being in public relations,” Plodzik says. “I majored in business administration with a minor in psychology. When I graduated I worked for a car rental company. I rented a car one day for a district manager for Marriott Management Services. He was so delighted in the way he and I engaged with each other that he told me I should come interview with Marriott. Marriott hired me to work in several healthcare accounts for them. David [May] had been at Marriott and when he left to be UNH’s director of dining, he said ‘I’m going to call you for a job someday.’ I never really thought he would, but that’s why I’m really indebted to him.”
At the end of the day, Plodzik’s ability to engage and interact with people has been his greatest asset.
“I love what I do,” Plodzik says. “I can’t imagine doing anything different. I love it because we have so much fun here. People come in here and see that we are approachable—we’re human. They know we’re trying to do the best we can. We’re not always perfect. That’s what it’s about—the relationship we have with the students. I want them to know every single person who works for us.”