How Kara Blanton creates a work culture that feels like family at Murray State University Dining

Kara Blanton recently took on her late father’s role of senior concessions manager at Murray State University Dining. Here’s a look at how she continues her father's legacy.
Racer Dining team
Murray State University Dining team featuring previous concession senior supervisor David Gerard. | Photo courtesy of Murray State University Dining.

Kara Blanton wanted to feel like she was with family in her workplace. And she found exactly that experience through her roles at Murray State University Dining. Namely through the time she was able to work with her father, time that she holds close to her heart, after his passing. She learned a lot from him, she says, and she eventually took those lessons and followed in his footsteps as concession senior supervisor.

Family is Blanton’s passion, outside of work, she spends most of her time with family. In particular, she was very close to her father, previous concession senior supervisor David Garrard, who passed away about a year ago.

“He wasn't just my dad; he was my best friend. He was somebody that I could talk to about anything. Sometimes things that a daughter normally wouldn't talk to their father about probably,” said Blanton as she laughed at the memory. “But yeah, he was great at everything. He was a great husband, a great father, a great friend.”  

Blanton began her career with Murray State University Dining about two years ago in the dining services admin office as the unit clerical. Prior to joining the dining team at the university, Blanton worked as an office manager for a senior caregiving company. Blanton had worked in foodservice in the past but never in a college setting. For Blanton, the aha moment that brought her to Murray State University was seeing her dad in action. She wanted the opportunity to learn from him as well as spend more time with him. In addition, seeing the work dynamic attracted her to the university; she wanted to feel like she was with family.

“Coworkers were like family to him, I kind of wanted the same thing. I wanted to be happy in my workplace, feel like I was with family,” said Blanton. “So being able to work alongside him and learn things from him, I think had a lot to do with me coming here. He was extremely happy here.”

The transition to the new job has been challenging as Blanton wraps up her previous position, but she’s already bringing innovative ideas to the space. For instance, the dining team has recently begun utilizing a new mobile cart for baseball and softball games, in which they typically weren’t seeing much revenue.

“And so, she brought that to the table and helped manage that piece of the relationship with athletics. And we're really looking forward to seeing how that grows. That little pocket of revenue by making that change that she's brought forward,” said Meagan Hart, marketing manager for the university’s dining program.

Right now, the team doesn’t have a concessions manager so in the new role, Blanton has taken over managing concessions. Her day-to-day tasks include managing truck delivery, inventory, scheduling, and developing new ideas.

Time management has been one of the biggest challenges in the transition to the new role, but Blanton has support as she overcomes that hurdle.

“I really look back to the concessions manager and how she ran it, and how my dad as a supervisor ran it, and do whatever I can, as far as what I've learned from them to continue,” she said.

Blanton said she looks back to memories of working with her father where she learned lessons that have guided the way she takes on her new role. For instance, her father was deeply passionate about customer service and ensuring everyone can be served. He would often “jump the gun” and put down too many hot dogs too close to closing, worried that the team would run out.

“Honestly, it was kind of funny to watch,” said Blanton. “He cared so much about the customer and making sure that no one was left unserved. And if somebody came up and wanted a hot dog, they were able to get one.”

Garrard has left quite a legacy at Murray State University Dining. Current employees rave about their time working with him.

"I loved Mr. David. He was always in a good mood. It is very fitting that Kara is walking in his footsteps. He was a hard-working man, and I miss him so much,” said Dorothy Morris, a concessions employee, in a statement.

Garrard worked with a smile on his face, never getting caught up on the small things, said Blanton.

“I mean he came in every day he got it done and, he was kind, compassionate, all of the things that you would look for in an employee he embodied. His passing, everyone felt,” said Hart.

But the team remains optimistic for the future and in Blanton’s leadership as she takes on the legacy of her father.

 "Kara came back to work following David’s passing with a desire to keep his legacy alive by taking on his role as concession senior supervisor,” said Sonya Lasater, former concession manager, in a statement. “She approached this role with the same positivity and kindness that David had while also bringing tenacity and new ideas to the table."

As Blanton steps into her new role, she leads with a simple approach, one that she learned from her father—treat them like family. She wants her concessions team to have fun as well as feel appreciated.

“But to me, it's all about feeling wanted and appreciated. And I think that that's important for employees to know that they are important. Without them, things wouldn't run, managers can't do everything themselves. Everything is really on them,” said Blanton.  "So, I just want them to be treated as if I would want to be treated, and like family.”

Blanton wanted a workplace that felt like a family, and she found it. And more than that, she gets to cultivate and lead that culture through her new position.  But, her favorite thing about the new role, hands down, is knowing that her father is with her.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct Gerard to Garrard. 



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