Staff Spotlight: Ken Lenig

Victoria Walker, Contributing Writer

“You’re only as good as your last meal,” Ken Lenig, University chef of 14 years, said. “It’s all about timing and prep. I tell my grandchildren that.”

As far as culinary advice goes, Lenig, known affectionately as “Pap,” is certainly an excellent reference. He spent most of his time so far at the University moving between stations in the Bostwick Marketplace, before eventually taking a Terrace Room position, which allows for much more personal interaction with students. He described this as the best part of his job.

Lenig’s culinary career did not begin at the University. Growing up in Sunbury, Pa. in a family of seven children, he was always very much a food person and used to pitch in cooking when his mother was at work. At the age of 15, his culinary vocation moved him from crafting meatloaf in his home kitchen to working at the nearby Dutch Pantry Family Restaurant.

“I just fell into it,” Lenig said, referring to his work with food. “I started out as a busboy […] and here I am today.”

After six years of moving up the restaurant hierarchy, Lenig accepted a managerial position at a company branch near Nashville, Tenn. but was soon driven back to Sunbury by bad hours and a desire to return to Pennsylvania. Back home, he worked a few other odd jobs, including selling insurance for a year, before breaking back into the food business and opening Lenig’s Restaurant.

The family-type eatery served lunch and dinner, and had 16 workers at the peak of its business, including part-time students and Lenig’s three children. His wife of 37 years, who today works as a registered nurse, was in nursing school at the time and helped with the business on Friday nights.

Today, the couple lives in the same house that they called home at the start of their marriage. Although no longer running a restaurant, the Lenigs continue to work in the kitchen together, often having their children and seven grandchildren over for family meals.

“We keep it simple,” Lenig said. “Whatever the family likes.”

After his 12 year restaurant run, Lenig moved on to another facet of the food industry and started working for the University in 2001. While this larger setting meant that he could no longer have a hand in all workplace activity, Lenig has continued to reach out and help coworkers with their duties whenever he has completed his own. He has proven himself to be not only an excellent employee, but also a voice for the other workers, often taking overlooked issues into consideration.

“He’s kind of the epitome of what we’re looking for. Someone who’s happy at what they’re doing [and] good at what they’re doing. When there have been things that weren’t going the way they were supposed to be going, he’s been the voice of a lot of people,” General Manager of Resident Dining John Cummins said.

At the end of the day, a lot of elements come together to make University dining run smoothly. As Lenig says, timing and prep are key. The positive dining experiences of busy, stressed-out students depend primarily on staff like Lenig, who comes into work each morning with a good attitude and the readiness to tackle whatever the day may bring.

“My wife tells everybody ‘He loves his job,’ and I do. I could have retired two years ago, but why? ” Lenig said. 

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