Staff, students brighten each others’ days in the café

Max Garfinkel, Reporter

The scents of fried foods doused in barbecue sauce fill the cafeteria air. Sounds of chattering students permeate the room. Lines form in front of food stations. Students smile as they greet the servers, asking about their days and exchanging banter about food options.

Carrying containers of crispy fried chicken, garlic-covered green beans and soft mashed potatoes, students amble around the Café Lab serving area, picking out sweet or savory snacks and cold drinks.

PASS THE WALLET. Cashier Cassandra Judkins, at right, smiles as she passes senior Tomás Linquist his wallet and a few kind words. Students and cafeteria workers have close relationships, checking in throughout the day.

As students get ready to pay, cashiers give students more than just their change, they give kindness and conversation, too. When a student sees a cashier or server, they see someone who they can talk to, someone who will lift up their spirits. They see a friend.

Kimaya Robinson creates a buoyant atmosphere wherever she goes. She greets regulars by name as they walk into the Starbucks-affiliated coffee shop. When sophomore Charlotte Kistenbroker walks in and sees Kimaya — which is nearly every day — Charlotte sings “hello” at the top of her lungs, often to the surprise of other customers.

“When I see Kimaya in the Starbucks, she makes me smile and makes my day a little better,” Charlotte said.

Ms. Robinson works in the coffee shop and the cafeteria as a cashier, and has worked at Lab for a year. Before Lab, she worked in the CPS Safe Passage program.

“I love the students like they are my kids,” Ms. Robinson said.

To ensure that the students have a good experience, Ms. Robinson asks what they want stocked and does her best to provide. She put doughnuts in the coffee shop after students requested them, and they are often all eaten by the end of the day.

Similarly to Kimaya, Cassandra Judkins creates an energetic aura around her in Café Lab.

Ms. Judkins has a welcoming presence, radiating warmth. When students are in line, she will often compliment a new haircut or their shoes, and when students walk through the cafeteria, she will always say “Hi.”

She has worked in the cafeteria as a cashier and occasionally as a cook for three years. Before she worked at Lab, she was a stay-at-home mom.

She said that her favorite part of her job is chatting with students every day. 

“I’ve worked at other restaurants and seen regulars every day, but it’s not as personal as here,” Ms. Judkins said, praising the students she sees. “It makes my job way more enjoyable.”