Students had just settled into the Spring 2021 semester when a snowstorm disrupted their already chaotic college lives. Power outages, burst pipes, and a stranded a student in a Mehling elevator, forced students to find ways to combat the cold chill of the ice storm.
With these issues at hand, Kirk Mustain, general manager of Bon Appétit, powered through and provided students who were dependent on the Bauccio Commons for food with consistent meals.
“There’s absolutely no power in this building,” Mustain said in February. “We’re working off of generators and using some of the gas, but we have to bring in fans and generators so we get the exhaust out so we’re not getting a bunch of CO2 in.”
By bringing together limited staff to support students, despite the hardships students collectively face, Mustain showed a “true deep caring for the student population,” according to Sean Ducey, UP alum and current University Events associate director.
This is just one instance of Mustain showing how much he values the student’s of UP. He tries to put in as much work as he can to ensure that the students are getting what they need. That 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 translate into a strong sense of community, Mustain said. He said that he appreciates these aspects of working in a kitchen, and continues to foster that appreciation with friends, colleagues and UP students.
Being open minded is one of the big things that shapes how he connects with people.
“Just be kind, really be kind to people,” Mustain said. “Don’t lose your sense of inquisitiveness. Don’t lose that sense of adventure, you know, be open to things.”
Mustain started his culinary journey as a busboy, clearing dishes and setting tables. He never would have guessed he would be managing a food service serving close to 4,000 students, he said. Being open to new opportunities brought Mustain where he is now.
“I started as a busboy when I was 14, in high school,” Mustain said. “I just got a little job at the mall and ended up getting in the kitchen at some point when somebody didn’t show up.”
Mustain’s passion for new opportunities and experiences spans beyond the kitchen. Mustain said he loves travelling 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 experience and sample the local cuisine.
When exploring a foreign country, language barriers can be deterring for travelers, but Mustain sees it as an opportunity to find rooted connections beyond language. He finds that he can make connections through something he knows well: food.
“You always learn something from somebody,” says Mustain. “Anytime I’m out and about, I’m always looking at stuff, taking pictures, and [thinking] how can I make this work, how can I adapt it?”
Not only has his sense of adventure and curiosity contributed to his ability to communicate with people, his exposure to different cultures shapes his understanding on what it means to interact and create meaningful connections with others — specifically students.
Living in an age where people are not only better understanding their dietary restrictions, but also being more vocal about them, Mustain has done his best to be accommodating.
His son, a 2016 UP graduate, grew up with several food allergies. As a parent, Mustian tries to bring his experience to the Commons kitchen to help serve UP students.
Mustain encourages students who have dietary restrictions and are struggling to reach out to him.
“He got a question about it, and gave the parents his cell phone number,” Ducey said. “He figured out a good plan for how their staff would accommodate any needs for dietary restrictions.”
Beyond his work at the University, when time permits, he connects with his longtime coworkers through meals that are important to him. For close to 20 years now, he and Brenda Greiner — the Shepard Academic Resource Center director and long time friend — along with a few others head down to HK Cafe on Holgate for Dim Sum.
Mustain thrives off of sharing food with his family and friends. With food playing such an important part in and out of his profession, it can be hard to distinguish the line between the two worlds.
In a way, his work and his personal life have come together. To him, the people at UP are more than just students needing to be fed. They’re real people with voices, and he understands that.
“For Kirk this isn’t a job, it’s personal,” says Greiner. “I’ve seen Kirk want to hear about the student experience, but he wants to hear about it from the students themselves. He wants that dialogue with them. He wants to know what their experience is.”
With the pandemic causing unprecedented change, some may feel a disconnect from the UP community. Amidst these changes, Mustain and his caring attitude is one thing that has remained constant on campus for the last 30 years.
Anna Lageson, the senior online communications and multimedia production manager, has known Mustain since she started working at the University 15 years ago.
“Through COVID, he’s worked so hard to protect his workers and try to maintain his workforce as long as he could and bring them back as soon as he could,” Lageson said. “He’s very concerned that the students are safe, or the food environment is, and that their food is well prepared and healthy.”
For some students, Mustain is seen as just the “Bon App guy.” But if you get the chance to talk to him, you might be surprised with what you find. With 30 years of experience at UP, he has a lot of knowledge to share.
If you have any questions about the school, concerns about the food, or are looking for a fun restaurant to indulge in, you can find Mustain in his office or interacting with people in The Commons.
“You’re the reason we’re here,” Mustain said. “That’s why. I’m not here for the faculty and staff. I’m here for the students. If you guys weren’t here, we wouldn’t be here.”
Janea Melido is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.