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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

The everything people

With the ending of my Tuesday class at 10:45 in DeBart and the rumblings of my stomach, I leave the classroom into the swarm of students in the hallway that make me feel like I am a freshman in high school again. Escaping the stampede with most of my limbs intact, I rush outside to unlock my bike and speed my way across campus (apologies to anyone who I have cut off). With an uncharacteristically athletic jump up the stairs and swipe into SDH, I find myself faced with one of my worst fears.  

The lines for Boom Boom and Southwest Salads are comparable to the lines for Keenan Revue tickets. They snake around South and North Dining Halls as if the signature Gordon’s Food Service dressings that define these Notre Dame delicacies contain some elixir of eternal life. As a connoisseur of these specific dining hall delights, there is no denying their popularity, even for the occasional critic.    

South Dining Hall employee Debra Richards is baffled by the cult following of the Boom Boom and Southwest Salads. Richards said she has seen people line up for the salad station as early as 10:40, even thought the facility does not make the switch to lunch until 11.

As to the cause for the dish’s ever-growing fanbase, she said, “I will say, all the students love fried chicken; it doesn't matter where it is”. She also believes the dressings — and the ability for students to combine all of the ingredients of the salad as they choose — lure them in. She noted that the students she has talked to cite the salad’s taste as being one of the main reasons they keep coming back and are willing to stand in such long lines during their lunch breaks.     

As particular as students are about their dining selections during Tuesday and Thursday lunches, they are even more specific in the way they order their salads. Some ask for an extra bowl and some get two salads, one for themselves and one for a friend. Richards revealed that, in her experience, extra chicken is by far the most popular request from students, but recently the vegan option has gained more popularity.       

Today is one of those days when I have been on the back end of the salad’s cult following and found myself in the rear of a line that blocks traffic. I have been withheld from my fried promised land, and I can only pass my time with mind-numbing TikTok scrolling and slowly moving one step forward. After watching how waves sink ships and embarrassingly learning that bonsai trees are an art form, not a species of tree, I am almost to the front of the line.     

With the highlight of my day quickly approaching, I can hear the soft voices of the employees serving the Boom Boom Salad asking each student the single question that has become synonymous with this meal.  After one final step, the moment I have waited for all day is finally here, and I can hardly contain my excitement with the grin on my face.  

“Everything?” When I am asked how I would like my salad, I am always tempted to respond, “No, you all are my everything!” However, this group of employees that I have come to dub the “everything people” whip up my Boom Boom Salad with all of the fixings at record speed. With a smile and a heavy salad bowl, I head away from the loving assembly line, knowing the wait was well worth it.    

Just as the salads that they create are the dining craze of campus, equally deserving of attention is the group that puts them together. I firmly believe that the “everything people” are the glue that holds Notre Dame together, and there is no better time to observe this than Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.          

Debra Richards’ shift begins long before the line of students curls around the dining hall, when she starts prepping for the rush of the lunch crowd.  She explained that what the average Notre Dame student knows as the Boom Boom or Southwest Salad section in the dining hall is called the “action salad station.” The “everything people” are not just working in the salad assembly line — Richards highlighted the necessity of the pantry in the basement of SDH and how it is used to keep the salad line prepped with all of the products they could need.

Richards’ salads are made with love and care. As she said, “I never feel like I have to go 100 miles an hour, I just go at my own pace.”  She and many of the other dining hall workers that make up the “everything people” share this opinion. Richards in particular thinks of her daughters, how they would want to eat the food she makes and how the students walking around campus are just like her own.    

Richards described her time at the action salad station by saying, “I would like to interact with [the students] too sometimes, but it's just so busy.” She shared that, on days when it is less busy, she enjoys talking to students and hearing what is going on in their lives. Richards stated that while some students may not want to have conversations in the dining hall, some of them might, especially when they are missing home just a little extra.  

Specifically, Richards shared some of her favorite interactions with students. Last Wednesday, when student government was handing out carnations, Richards was touched as a student gave her flower to her and thanked her for all that she does. Additionally, while she was working at NDH over the summer, Richards helped an art student who had dietary restrictions. In gratitude, the student painted her a beautiful postcard of where she was from — which Richards still has — and told her, “Thanks for being my mom.”        

The next time you are in the dining hall waiting in line, make sure to say hello to the “everything people” that not only serve you your salad, but also make Notre Dame a home away from home.

Jack Sirianni is a sophomore studying political science, journalism and public policy. He is a proud Michigander who appreciates jamming to Pete Seeger, scouring eBay for vintage Notre Dame paraphernalia and collecting stickers from everywhere he goes. On campus, Jack can often be seen by the Founder’s Monument or in the line for Southwest Salad. For your favorite tidbits of knowledge or any other musings, his inbox is always open at jsirian2@nd.edu.  

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.