Do not be alarmed if Mike Aughtry slips a little barbecue sauce alongside your french fries. Just accept the gesture and realize that he only does it for people he really likes.
“It helps the fries go down a litter easier,” he said about the addition of the sweet condiment.
Aughtry, the cook supervisor in the University of Alaska Anchorage's Lucy Cuddy cafeteria, will let you know right away whether he likes you or not – and the odds are, he will. He likes nearly anyone with a good heart.
He is infectiously friendly to all of his customers because he “was raised that it was proper etiquette” to do so. “Everybody deserves time,” he said while preparing about 10 breakfast sandwiches. “And not just because they're spending money here.”
Originally from Seattle, Wash., but a resident of Alaska for 27 years now, Aughtry has been working at the campus cafeteria for about two months. He heard about the job in the paper and jumped on the opportunity.
“I felt I needed to be around people who are going somewhere in their lives,” he said about the campus job. “Plus it was a supervisor position.”
Aughtry, who plans to attend UAA during the summer, can relate to the bogged down students who approach his counter. He has been there. While he did not graduate from college his first time around, he remains aware of the challenges that face students.
“I know how it is with the tests, the stress, and having no money,” he said. “There's a certain camaraderie. I know what they're going through.”
Thus, he does what he can at the grill.
“I'll take care of that part,” he said about the responsibility of preparing the food. “So you're not stressed while you're trying to eat something.”
Furthermore, his efforts exceed the important process of providing sustenance to hungry students. He also supplies a smile and a few kind words.
“With a smile, you can always pass it on to the next person,” he said.
Even at 7 a.m.? Apparently so. He is even willing to share his philosophical outlook on life.
“Think ahead so you don't get behind,” he offered. “If you do that, life will be just fine. Life is a team sport. You just can't make it alone.”
Aughtry, who works the morning shift at the cafeteria, is always ready to spread his good cheer or wise advice. Even with his first customer of the day. When a familiar customer approached his counter as his first order of business, he happily inquired, “Where've you been at?” Then the conversation begins. They discussed a variety of subjects: employment, school, and, of course, food; all of this at seven in the morning.
This casual conversation is second nature to him. He is at home when he is cooking. “My Dad cooked in the Navy and he did most of the main cooking at home,” he said. “I started to cook when I came up to Alaska. I cooked on all the fishing boats, and then I started at restaurants after that.” Now he is at UAA cooking for students.
“I love to see people eat,” he said. “I think people enjoy themselves most when they're eating.”
As for the social aspect of food preparation, he asked, “During any party, where does everybody end up?” He answered quickly, “The kitchen.”