Q&A with Famed Courtyard Cafe Worker Souleymane
This week, The Dartmouth sits down with Souleymane, Dartmouth students’ favorite “boss.”
The return to pseudo-normalcy has been accompanied by campus facilities becoming over-crowded and under-staffed. Despite these challenges, students can look forward to reuniting with their favorite staff members, like Souleymane Marzouk — the beloved Courtyard Cafe worker who has gained campus fame for his bubbly personality.
I’ve seen you many times, at the Hop — it’s my favorite place to eat. So, my first question is: When and how did you first come to Dartmouth?
SM: Well, originally I am from Mali. I was adopted, and my adopted mom is from Vermont — right here in Hartford — so I went to Hartford Middle School and High School. I started working at Dartmouth during my senior year of high school part-time, then I went to college myself.
So you’ve really grown up with Dartmouth?
SM: I did during my high school years, because I didn’t have reason to be on campus until I started looking for a job. My neighbor, who was one of the managers at DDS, hired me at the Hopkins Center, and from there, here I am.
What were your first impressions, ideas and opinions about Dartmouth?
SM: Well you have that whole Ivy League thing, which I really didn’t understand that much — I was not only learning English at the time, but also learning the ways that people live here. I came to the country late in 1990 and then I didn’t move to Hartford until 1993, so I was still learning. So for me, by working at a college, I learned what “Ivy League” means and what are the standards and such, and that’s important to me now.
Since your time here, how has Dartmouth changed in your perceptions?
SM: It’s changed a lot. Our guests are very welcoming — when I say guests, I mean the students. College is supposed to be fun, and our management tries to create a community for us as employers so that we can be a part of the Dartmouth experience, which makes a lot of sense to me. I think once I get to know some of the students and find out what they’re comfortable with over time, without asking directly, I become comfortable to say to myself “It’s okay to call this person by his or her name, versus sir or ma’am.” That’s one of the reasons I like being at the Hop versus Class of 1953 Commons, because there’s a lot more interaction here versus there, in my opinion. The equipment that we use at the register takes 5-10 seconds for me to interact with somebody while I’m doing that, versus just “zoom” *Souleymane handed the reporter an imaginary plate.*
I would definitely say that 5-10 seconds makes a difference.
SM: Thank you.
Have you worked at Foco before?
SM: Yes, many times, on a temporary basis. The Hop is closed for some of the year, so some of us go to ’53 in the summertime to pick up some hours. And then recently, with Covid, this place was shut down completely, so all of us were there, so I’m familiar with how they operate.
Covid has been very hard across the entire country, and it’s been difficult for DDS too — there are lots of lines, lots of waiting. It’s no one’s fault other than a global pandemic’s, but I wanted to thank you — I think on behalf of everyone — for making our experience with DDS way better. What can we as students do to reciprocate that spirit?
SM: Well you just did. Sometimes just say thank you to somebody, let him or her know how well they’re doing. Or what you’re doing right now, putting my voice out there. I think that it’s part of it. You’re right, it’s been hard for everybody, but then the community comes together — without you guys, we wouldn’t be here. So, just thanking somebody who is doing something different or something that’s unique to you, I think that’s a good start, it all starts with one person.
Are there any specific things that would really help with line management that students can do?
SM: Sometimes, no matter what you do, we cannot make the lines faster. Because of COVID-19, we’ve lost workers — we just don’t have them. Our grill line is supposed to have a minimum of 3 people, and our salad bar is supposed to have a minimum of 2 people. Now, if people order a burger, it may take 2-3 minutes for that burger to be cooked, so no matter how fast the cooks are going, that burger is not moving fast enough. I think putting in a GET mobile order online is helpful, but mostly if you come here as a guest, I’d be aware that the lines are long — but not because we aren’t doing our jobs. There’s a lot of people here, and only one grill line. They’ve just got to be patient with us, and we’ve got to be patient with our guests.
It’s good to know we have to work together. I think for a lot of students, it’s very easy to get annoyed and blame other people.
SM: It truly is, especially when you’ve got a time limit and class to go to, so I totally understand that. So, unless you order pre-made items — like specials — anything else will take time. And then, at the register, we’re supposed to have two people there, but again, we’re just short staffed.
In your years here, when did you start to be aware that you had a campus presence?
SM: Right now, at the Hop we just take your IDs to scan. Before, with the machines we had, we had to enter Stock Keeping Unit numbers. So, that took longer to enter. Now, taking your ID, I get to see your name and such, so I started learning some names — once I felt they were okay with that. Then, some guests came up to me to say thank you and that they appreciated what I do.
What’s your favorite food at Courtyard Cafe?
SM: My favorite food here is a steak queso on wheat — I don’t know why exactly, but I usually like a steak queso with spinach on wheat, although I don’t get it as often, since I try to be good.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.