By: Dargan Thompson, Assistant Features Editor
Sonji Harris greets everyone who comes into Sbarro with a big smile from behind the counter.
The supervisor of the campus Sbarro, Harris said she never expected to work at UNF. She came onto campus with a friend who was filling out an application to work for Chartwells and ended up filling one out herself, although she wasn’t interested in the job at the time.
Harris got the job in 2002, and she’s worked at UNF ever since.
“I love working here,” Harris said. “I never thought I’d be here this long.”
Since Sbarro wasn’t ready at the time, Harris spent her first few months on campus as an evening server in the old cafe. She said when she started, a lot of the kids who came through the line didn’t like gravy. She encouraged them to try it, and by the time she left the cafe, she had students eating gravy on their potatoes and rice every day.
Harris said she likes working on a college campus because she sees the same people all the time. Sbarro has a lot of customers who are regulars, some of whom frequent the restaurant two or three times a day.
“I don’t know if the food’s that good or am I that good,” Harris said.
She has gotten to know a lot of the students, some of whom come back to visit. She said she’s had some good student-workers she was especially sad to see go.
Harris spreads her positive attitude to those who come into Sbarro as well as those she works with. Nicole Castillo, a student cashier at Sbarro, said Harris’ cheerfulness is infectious.
“She puts me in a good mood to come to work,” Castillo said.
In the years she’s been at UNF, Harris said she has seen the campus change as the school made upgrades and built new buildings. She said she hopes she gets a chance to look inside the new cafe once it’s finished.
Outside of work, Harris said she spends most of her time taking care of her mother. She goes to church on Sunday and sometimes takes her dog, Rosco, to the dog park. Her vacations are spent catching up on rest and preparing for the next semester.
Harris said after working around food all day, she does not often cook at home. She prefers home-cooked meals, though, and said she lost her taste for pizza soon after she began working at Sbarro.
“I don’t do pizza,” she said. “Maybe once every three months, I might try a slice. I’m glad the kids love pizza, though. It keeps me working hard.”
Students can spot Harris every weekday from before Sbarro opens to around 5:30 p.m. On Fridays, Sbarro closes at 2 p.m., so Harris gets to leave a little earlier.
Sbarro stays fairly busy all day, Harris said. It can be stressful if the staff is short-handed, but Harris has learned to deal with it. She said she enjoys working and looks forward to every day.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten to love the kids,” Harris said. “I think they keep me young, keep me on my toes.”
Email Dargan Thompson at [email protected]
Check out this animated short based on the story you’ve just read. It was created by students in the Applied Journalism class at UNF.