The students had just moved into the spring semester of 2021 when a snowstorm disrupted their already chaotic college life. Power outages, burst pipes and a student stranded in a Mehling elevator forced the students to find ways to weather the cold of the ice storm.
With these issues at hand, Kirk Mustain, CEO of Bon AppÃ©tit, supported and provided students who depended on the Bauccio Commons for food with consistent meals.
âThere is absolutely no electricity in this building,â Mustain said in February. “We work with generators and use some of the gas, but we have to use fans and generators to remove the exhaust gases so as not to introduce a lot of CO2.”
By assembling a limited staff to support students, despite the difficulties students collectively face, Mustain has demonstrated “real deep support for the student body,” according to Sean Ducey, former UP and current associate director of University Events.
This is just one example of Mustain showing how much he appreciates UP students. He tries to do as much work as possible to make sure the students get what they need. This dedication is why he has been a cherished member of the UP community for over 30 years.
Mustain has spent his entire working life in the food industry. His experience with food and cooking translates into a strong sense of community, said Mustain. He said he enjoys these aspects of working in a kitchen and continues to foster that appreciation with his friends, colleagues and UP students.
Open-mindedness is one of the great things that shapes the way he connects with people.
âJust be nice, be really nice to people,â Mustain said. âDon’t lose your sense of curiosity. Don’t lose that sense of adventure, you know, be open to things.
Mustain began his culinary journey as a busboy, clearing dishes and setting tables. He would never have guessed that he would run a catering service serving nearly 4,000 students, he said. Being open to new opportunities has brought Mustain to where it is now.
âI started out as a bus boy when I was 14, in high school,â Mustain said. “I just got a little job at the mall and ended up walking into the kitchen at one point when no one showed up.”
Mustain’s passion for new opportunities and experiences extends beyond the kitchen. Mustain said he loves to travel and has had the opportunity to see many places. From Ireland and Vietnam to Rome, Barcelona and Germany, he has signed up for food tours, where he can discover and taste the local cuisine.
When exploring a foreign country, language barriers can be a deterrent for travelers, but Mustain sees an opportunity to find connections rooted beyond the language. He finds he can make connections through something he knows well: food.
âYou always learn something from someone,â says Mustain. âWhenever I’m on the move, I always look at things, take pictures and [thinking] how can i make it work, how can i adapt it? ”
Not only has her sense of adventure and curiosity contributed to her ability to communicate with people, but her exposure to different cultures shapes her understanding of what it means to interact and make meaningful connections with others, especially students.
Living in a time when people not only understand their dietary restrictions better but also talk more about them, Mustain has done his best to be accommodating.
Her son, who graduated from UP in 2016, grew up with several food allergies. As a parent, Mustian tries to bring his experience to the common kitchen to help serve the UP students.
Mustain encourages students who have dietary restrictions and find it difficult to contact him.
âHe had a question about it and gave the parents his cell phone number,â Ducey said. âHe came up with a good plan for how their staff would meet any need for dietary restrictions. “
Beyond his work at the University, when time permits, he connects with his long-time colleagues through meals that are close to his heart. For almost 20 years now, he and Brenda Greiner – the director of the Shepard Academic Resource Center and longtime friend – along with a few others have been heading to the HK Cafe on Holgate for Dim Sum.
Mustain thrives on sharing food with family and friends. With food playing such an important role in and outside of his profession, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two worlds.
In a way, his work and his personal life come together. For him, the people of UP are more than students who need to be fed. They are real people with voices, and he gets it.
âFor Kirk, it’s not a job, it’s personal,â says Greiner. âI’ve seen Kirk want to hear about the student experience, but he wants to hear from the students themselves. He wants this dialogue with them. He wants to know what their experience is.
With the pandemic causing unprecedented change, some may feel disconnected from the UP community. Amidst these changes, Mustain and his caring attitude is something that has remained constant on campus for the past 30 years.
Anna Lageson, Senior Director of Online Communications and Multimedia Production, has known Mustain since she started working at the University 15 years ago.
“Thanks to COVID, he has worked so hard to protect his workers and try to maintain his workforce for as long as he can and bring them back as soon as he can,” Lageson said. âHe is very concerned that the students are safe, or that the food environment is safe, and that their food is well prepared and healthy. “
For some students, Mustain is only seen as the âgood guy in the appâ. But if you get the chance to talk to him, you might be surprised at what you find. With 30 years of experience at UP, he has a lot of knowledge to share.
If you have questions about school, food concerns, or looking for a fun restaurant, you can find Mustain in his office or interact with the folks at The Commons.
âYou are the reason we are here,â said Mustain. “That’s why. I’m not here for the faculty and the staff. I’m here for the students. If you weren’t here, we wouldn’t be here.
Janea Melido is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at [email protected].