Not many people can say they have an award named for them in their industry while they are still active in it, but Mary Molt can. Of the five distinguished operators receiving 2012 Silver Plate Awards in the onsite foodservice segments, Molt is undoubtedly the most iconic in her segment. One might even say legendary and not be far off.
There's not only the Mary Molt Student Excellence Award established in her honor by the NACUFS Midwest Region, but also her authorship of the last four editions of the volume feeding bible Food for Fifty (she co-authored an additional three editions), her role in developing the original NACUFS Professional Standard Manual, her contributions to launching the prestigious Journal of Foodservice Management & Education and her many awards from NACUFS, including its highest honor, the Theodore W. Minah Award, in 1995.
Immersed in Operations
Despite all these broad industry activities and achievements, Molt also remains a working assistant director, part of the leadership team managing dining and housing operations at Kansas State University. The dining end of the responsibilities include three dining halls serving some 4,000 resident students plus various retail outlets that include four c-stores, a retail bakery and even a sports bar and a sit-down restaurant.
In addition to her operational responsibilities, Molt is a member of the KSU faculty, an assistant professor of hospitality management and dietetics who is also responsible for coordinating supervised practice instruction for students in the coordinated undergraduate program in dietetics.
Currently, she has oversight over all classes taught in KSU's dining operations, including food production management. She also co-teaches a distance food production management class that reaches as many as two dozen students a semester all over the world.
She also oversees student dietitians who do their management semester in the KSU dining services. “We get students with no management experience at all who leave with at least an appreciation for it, and an idea that ‘I can do this!'”
Becoming a Fixture
The multitasking powerhouse that is Mary Molt sprang from fairly humble beginnings. She grew up in rural Nebraska in a family where food and cooking were central to life.
“My parents were very willing to let me and my brothers and sister cook and explore, and we all turned out to be pretty good cooks,” Molt recalls. “I was especially interested in baking.”
She says one of her enduring memories of those early years was of a baking adventure gone wrong, though: “I had baked a cake and it was so awful that even the dog wouldn't eat it,” she laughs. “I remember my brothers teasing me about it for long afterwards.”
Molt attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney with the intention of becoming a dietitian and graduated in three and a half years with a double major in dietetics and education.
She accepted a dietetic internship at Oklahoma State University, where she pursued her graduate work. The internship director there was Mary Leidigh, a pioneering figure in the field who incorporated a strong management component into her program. Soon, Molt found she liked that kind of work.
After finishing up her degree, she applied for an open assistant unit manager position with the KSU housing & dining services department. “I interviewed but, as I subsequently learned, it was a formality because Mary Leidigh was a good friend of Jean Riggs, the director, and Mary had already decided I'd be here and Jean had already agreed. So here I was.”
Molt didn't intend to become such a fixture at KSU necessarily, but that's how it turned out.
“I stayed for so long because of the education and teaching component, which I really like,” she says, adding that she is especially proud of the graduates of the program who went on to careers in the onsite dining field. They include Steve Simpson, associate director at the University of Missouri; Nona Golledge, director of dining at the University of Kansas (and also current NACUFS president); and Sheryl Kidwell, KU's director of residential dining.
“I stayed also because of my colleagues who are as passionate as I am about college and university dining,” Molt says. She especially credits the support of KSU's dining services director, John Pence, himself a Silver Plate and Minah Award winner, for “contributing to my long tenure.”
On Campus and Beyond
Molt has set her mark on KSU's dining program too, of course, introducing retail dining for the first time 20 years ago with the bakery still operating today.
“We wanted resident students to be able to buy home-baked products that didn't cost them an arm and a leg,” Molt explains. “It also gave students in the hotel restaurant management/dietetics a chance to run a business. I've always felt that on a college campus, it is important to be able to give students some practical experience.”
The big current project at KSU is planning a major renovation of the aging residential dining facilities on campus. Molt says the initiative is critical for positioning KSU Dining as able to provide high quality meal service efficiently and cost-effectively.
Molt's involvement with projects like Food for Fifty and The Journal of Foodservice Management & Education all stream from her active involvement with the college dining community. They also help nourish her academic side, which seeks to explain and to educate. Take the Food for Fifty project, for example…
“I continue to do it because I think there is such a need for these basic, from-scratch recipes in quantity,” she says. “If we lose that, I don't know where we're ever going to get it back. I hesitate to take out even things that are not used much today because what goes around comes around.
“My intent with Food for Fifty is that a reader could go to any popular food magazine, see a recipe that looks interesting, and then use Food For Fifty to produce the product in quantity because it has the basic recipes. Recipe development is much easier once you have reliable quantity recipes that can be adapted.”
WHAT'S ON MOLT'S PLATE
Total Enrollment: 23,600
Dining Sites: 10 (3 DCs, 4 c-stores, 3 retail restaurants/cafes)
Annual Budget: $12 million
Staff: 100 FTEs, 300 students, 15 mgt.