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The Secret Sauce to an HBCU in Oklahoma: How Local Roots Feed the Soul of Langston University

The Secret Sauce to an HBCU in Oklahoma: How Local Roots Feed the Soul of Langston University
Posted By: D'Juan Hopewell on May 07, 2021

Wednesdays at Langston University are practically a sacred holiday. Each week it provides students with a much-needed vice, as they look forward to eating Sous Chef Mike Clemons' famous fried chicken. But don’t think this is merely the hunger of unrefined, co-ed pallets talking. “Big Mike,” as he’s affectionately known on campus, is also a hit with Langston’s President, Dr. Kent Smith. In fact, Dr. Smith regularly makes a special request for Mike’s proprietary, handmade sauce to serve at meetings.

As Langston Academic Advisor Ashford Perkins put it, “The food is excellent! The fried chicken reminds me of home, and being that I’m so far away, it’s nice to get that taste of home every week!”

Big Mike’s fried chicken experience provides a tale worth sharing, but the fact that he’s been consistently delivering it for over five years is the real story.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported in January of 2020 that the average number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was just over four years. Mike was hired by Sodexo in 2015, and was promoted to Sous Chef when Executive Chef Patrick Hurd arrived at Langston. He’s become as integral to the student experience as any tenured faculty. Sous Chef Mike enjoys the connection he has to the students and faculty on Langston’s campus, and is on a first-name basis with quite a few.

“I joined Sodexo in 2014," says Executive Chef Patrick Hurd. "Work brought me to Langston University several times, and I fell in love with the campus. In 2018, I officially joined the Langston team as their new Executive Chef. I have always strived to create an awesome dining experience for the students, faculty, and staff here at Langston University. My Sous Chef Mike has been a key factor in that. We work together, making sure that the menu not only includes tried and true items like Mike’s fried chicken, but introduces our diners to fun and exciting new items as well. I always challenge Mike and the rest of my team to think outside of the box, and they have certainly risen to the challenge.”

With each meal, Sous Chef Mike is connecting with his Langston family, strengthening bonds, and providing a critical support system for the students.

For many of these students a fried chicken dinner is often one of the best remedies for homesickness. The latitude that Sodexo gives Sous Chef Mike—to create personal bonds and cater the student dining experience—is the secret sauce that makes it all work.

In an information age where folks swipe left, scan their own groceries, and wait for the postal service to deliver their latest outfit, Sodexo is empowering its employees to create and foster personal connections within the institutions they serve. For the men and women who work for Sodexo it is indeed their community.

In addition to food services, Sodexo maintains Langston University’s facilities and throughout its ten years of service the company has made it a priority to hire locally. Sodexo has approximately one hundred employees at the university and most of the staff have Langston-area roots. That decision isn’t merely a matter of convenience but rooted in Sodexo’s belief that the town of Langston produces the best talent they can possibly find, and that locals simply care more.

“I began working at Langston University as a student in 2005. When Sodexo arrived on campus, I joined their team, and have been with Sodexo for the past 10 years. I love this community, they’re my family,” says Office Administrator Esachia Dollison.

It’s not simply fried chicken but also a human connection that Sous Chef Mike shares with his Langston family—a family he’s grown connected to over many years. This connection is made possible because of the freedom Sous Chef Mike has been given to become one with the students, faculty, and administrators he serves.

Sodexo has learned how to empower employees to create human connections through service. In an age where employee turnover is the rule, the men and women of Sodexo become fixtures in their communities over years. For the students of Langston, food doesn’t come to them from mysterious forces but from a real person—an individual for whom they’ve come to embrace and depend on. Some see a Wednesday menu but for Sodexo employees, it’s an opportunity to feed family and share a memory.

Langston University student Anthony Harris said it more succinctly, “Fried Chicken Day is always a day I look forward to.”
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