Meet Our Team
Every day, the members of the Columbia Dining team are here to greet you with a smile and a cup of coffee. Get to know some of our campus characters.
Hazel Clark, Café 212, Butler & Dodge Blue Javas
Hazel Clark has been part of a number of significant moments in Columbia Dining history. A member of the team for nearly 30 years, Hazel was on the original JJ’s Place opening team after the Lion’s Den closed. From there, she moved to Lerner Hall where she helped to open Ferris Booth Commons. Assisting with everything from menu design to operational logistics, Hazel describes the experience as a “wow moment” when she saw the team’s hard work come to life on the Ferris opening day. Following Ferris, Hazel worked at the Uris, Carlton and Lenfest units before moving into her current position.
Today, she’s the Unit Manager for Café 212 in Lerner Hall and the Butler and Dodge Blue Java coffee bars, a role she loves. Supervising 25 employees across the three units, Hazel manages schedules, purchasing, and customer service. In working across multiple locations, Hazel enjoys being out and about on campus, meeting the different school staff and building tenants, and getting to know students that visit her retail units.
A Queens resident, Hazel is originally from Panama and goes back to visit her parents twice a year. She loves to cook traditional Panamanian dishes like oxtail and rice and beans. A kind and humble person, say hi to Hazel the next time you see her and you’ll probably get a hug in return.
Chef Michael DeMartino, JJ's Place
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island, Chef Michael DeMartino grew up in a home where good food was integral to daily life. His classmates would jealously eye the roasted broccoli rabe and sausage on a semolina hero that he’d bring for school lunch. It’s no surprise that to this day, sandwiches are still his favorite food.
Chef Mike started cooking himself at an early age in after school jobs at delis and in hotels. When someone recognized his budding talent, they suggested he explore cooking as a career. He went on to pursue his professional culinary degree at Johnson and Wales University for Culinary Arts in Providence, RI. His experience includes the Intercontinental Hotel in New York City, where he worked under the tutelage of four master chefs and also travelled the hotel’s Asia network; Corporate Foods providing service to clients like Citibank, US Today, and Entertainment Weekly; and Fordham University where he served as the Dining Services Executive Chef for 18 years.
Now as the Chef and Manager of JJ’s Place, he is responsible for the overall operations and culinary experience at the popular campus eatery. His vision is to bring a rotation of fun, fresh, and seasonal items to JJ’s Place. Don’t be surprised if Chef Mike sits down with you while you’re enjoying your next JJ’s signature burger to ask what else you’d like to see next – he is eager to get student feedback and input on new JJ’s menu items.
Yanira Sanchez, Ferris Booth Commons
Yanira Sanchez came to New York at age of 15, from El Salvador and shortly after began her life in the culinary industry at NYC Tech, where she earned a degree in Hospitality. Post-graduation she spent several years in food services at JFK International Airport, followed by a brief stint in private catering and then worked for Aramark as the Press Room Supervisor for the NY Mets. While Yanira had no interest in baseball, her passion for food led her to Columbia in 2005. Over the last 8 years she has taken on several roles within Columbia Dining including Manager at Café 212 and John Jay, before settling in as Manager at Ferris Booth Commons in Fall 2013.
In her new role, Yanira hopes to bring fresh ideas to Ferris Booth and improve the overall experience for students. She has a big heart and treats each student as if they were her own. With a 19-year old daughter in college, she finds solace knowing that someone is taking care of her child and is more than happy to return the favor for her fellow parents.
Yanira considers herself very lucky -- she loves her job and loves her family. In addition to her daughter, Yanira also has a 14-year old son, who she worries about constantly, a cat and dog, who she jokes are her 3rd and 4th kids, and a husband of 20 years.
When she’s not working at Columbia, Yanira is pounding the pavement in Prospect Park or Central Park. She was not always a runner though; her interest blossomed after a thyroid cancer diagnosis 4 years ago. Fortunately it was caught early and removed, but during recovery Yanira needed motivation and consistency, she looked to the great outdoors. Now an avid runner, she is committed to participating in the NYC Marathon in 2014.
Yanira also enjoys reading and traveling. Her favorite destination thus far is Thailand, where she loves the, you guessed it, food.
Charles White, JJ’s Place
Charlie, a true New Yorker, was born and raised in Brooklyn and now resides in Harlem. However, JJ’s Place is where he calls “home.” He has been part of the JJ’s team for 16 years and is proud of the transformation it has gone through. His job is to make sure everything is done properly and above all that the students are happy. Charlie provides more than just great food, his outgoing personality makes going to JJ’s a fun experience. You can find him chatting with students, flipping burgers or joking with his coworkers on any given day.
Charlie has always had a passion for food and often jumps in to help cook up tasty dishes in JJ’s. This year he hopes to introduce even more vegan options. At home he enjoys trying out West Indian and Southern specialties.
Outside of work Charlie also loves spending time with his wife and 6 children and has learned not to take any moments for granted. In fact, one of his daughters works at JJ’s as well and he welcomes the opportunity to spend even more time with her.
If you really want to get him talking, just ask him about his favorite NY sports team. A self-proclaimed “sports fanatic,” Charlie is a loyal NY Mets and Buffalo Bills fan, arguing they are the only football team that actually plays in NY.
Patricia Ramachandran, Blue Java Café – Butler
Patricia Ramachandran, a 14-year Columbia veteran, is a shining star at Blue Java Café in Butler Library. She does a little of everything during her morning shift, all with a smile on her face. She likes talking to her customers and encourages the students to give her feedback so that she can continuously improve.
Patricia may be an expert barista, however, she dedicates much of her free time to her real passion, shopping. Clothes, shoes, it doesn’t matter, Patricia loves strolling the floors at Macy’s. She is also very close with her family and loves seeing her nieces and nephews, who she considers her own kids, and spending time with her husband of 17 years, Raj (of Blue Java Café – Dodge fame).
While her home is now Elmhurst, Queens, Patricia originally hails from Ecuador. And true to her South American roots, she loves to Cumbia dance when she visits her friends and family in Guayaquil. She is thrilled to be planning a trip back in 2014.
Victor Mercedes, Ferris Booth Commons
Victor Mercedes’ enthusiasm is contagious. Spend a couple minutes with him and you can’t help but smile yourself.
Victor has been part of the Columbia Dining team since 1994. He began work as a porter and quickly moved up throughout the organization. He’s currently part of the Ferris Booth Commons team and considers Lerner Hall to be like home. There, you’ll find Victor singing as he works and interacting with students. “I want to make sure they are happy,” he says. “Once the students smile, I smile too.”
Originally hailing from the Dominican Republic, Victor’s passion outside of work is his family – he’s a proud father and grandfather – and music. He’s the lead singer and choreographer of the group Tú Mambo, a salsa band that performs every weekend in the City. Victor and his band also perform at Dining’s Sabor Latino event held every fall, so be sure to check them out and dance in the John Jay aisles!
Yoskaira Toribio, Blue Java Café – Butler
Amongst the hustle and bustle of the morning rush at Blue Java Café in Butler, you’ll find Yoskaira Toribio serving up coffee, stocking the bakery case and taking inventory. She makes a mean mocha latte with caramel, which has become quite popular with students. A 10-year Columbia veteran, Yoskaira loves meeting new people every day; it’s her favorite part of her job as Head Coffee Bar Server.
Although she was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Yoskaira has been living in New York for 13 years. She learned English through classes at City College and appreciates the opportunity to practice the language in her daily routine.
Off campus, Yoskaira enjoys spending time with her 11 nieces and nephews and taking care of her mother. She takes pride in her close-knit family and her Dominican roots. You may catch her showing off her Zumba moves at the Dodge Fitness Center or enjoying Dominican style sushi at Mama Sushi in Washington Heights.
Dean Johnson, Ferris Booth Commons
Dean Johnson started with Columbia Dining 14 years ago, back in the days of the old JJ’s Place. He fondly remembers the burgers and fries, and the students hanging out at the pool table.
Today, he’s works at the omelet and pasta station at Ferris Booth Commons, where he loves the open layout that allows him to interact regularly with students. Dean’s favorite pasta combination? Olives, veggies, chicken, with a mixture of pesto and alfredo sauce. Be sure to ask him for a recommendation the next time you’re at Ferris.
Dean moved to Brooklyn from Jamaica in 1985. A fun-loving guy, outside of work he likes to spend time with his family, play dominoes, and watch football. Dean cheers for both the Jets and the Giants – “I’m a proud New Yorker,” he says. “I want both teams to do well.”
Nakia Anderson, Lenfest Cafe
Nakia is a veteran at Columbia, with 14 years as part of the Dining team. With a gleam in her eye and a charming smile, Nakia greets and chats with students and other customers while she works.
Stressed about academic assignments, students often share tidbits of their daily lives with Nakia. With a joke and a smile, Nakia tries to help distract students from their stress for just a moment. She’s proud of the variety offered on the menu and believes that fresh, healthy and well-cooked food can be therapeutic.
“When students recognize my name and tell me about their day, it makes it all worth it.” Nakia's warmth and humor is a special treat.
Chef Donald Bartlett, Uris Deli, Lenfest Cafe, Carlton Lounge
By age 15, Donald Bartlettknew he wanted to get a culinary degree. At the time, he was cleaning shrimp, working at a small restaurant in New Jersey, and learning as much as he could about cooking. He went on to attend Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, earning an Associate Degree in Culinary Arts.
From there, Chef Donald worked with the Chart House and Marriott Hotels, before opening both a pizzeria and a bakery in New Jersey.
In 2009, Chef Donald joined the Columbia Dining team as Manager at Butler Blue Java, Dodge Blue Java, and Cafe 212. This year, he will be taking on a new role as Chef Manager at Uris Deli, Lenfest Café and Carlton Lounge. Chef Donald will continue to design the daily menus and plans to introduce new dishes, from traditional fare to spicier items.
Chef Donald enjoys experimenting with new trends to shape his weekly menus. “It is always a learning process to come up with recipes and be creative,” he explains. “Having owned my own business, I had to teach myself a lot, which has helped.” Currently, he makes his own fresh mozzarella, which is used at Columbia Dining locations.
Of his job with Columbia Dining, Chef Donald says, “I love interacting with people. My wife calls me the mayor because I am always talking to people. I’m doing what I like to do – having fun, cooking food, being creative.”
Juan Carlos Garcia and Jocelyn Rosario, John Jay
Juan Carlos Garcia and Jocelyn Rosario separately made new homes and lives in New York after leaving the Dominican Republic. Their journey brought them both to Columbia University. They recall their first experiences in New York, the challenges faced, and their time with Columbia Dining.
Juan Carlos left the Dominican Republic with his wife in 1981. Of his journey, Juan Carlos explains, “It wasn’t easy to make my way to New York.” He quickly began work in Columbia Dining as a Head Porter, where he does everything from delivery and receiving, inventory, and maintenance support. Carlos lives with his wife and daughter in Manhattan and is the proud grandfather of two.
Jocelyn moved to New York with her family and shortly thereafter, joined the Columbia Dining team in 1988. During that time she has served as a cashier in John Jay and as an administrative assistant. Working as a cashier, Jocelyn really enjoys interacting with students on a daily basis. She feels she can relate easily to them, with her own children away from home in college. Jocelyn, married for 22 years, has four boys and lives in New Jersey.
Of her time at Columbia, Jocelyn fondly says, “This is my second home.” Carlos nods his head in affirmation and adds, “I feel blessed to have this job.” They exchange a glance and together end with, “We’re like family.”
Aaron Gomes, Assistant Director
For Aaron Gomes, it all started with a slice of pizza. Gomes attended William Patterson University where he studied Sociology and worked nights at a pizzeria. He started in delivery and eventually became a manager.
Following graduation, it was only natural for to Aaron begin his career with Columbia Dining as the late night manager at JJ’s Place. It was challenging to work until 4:00 a.m., but Aaron cites it as a great experience. From JJ’s, Aaron gained valuable experience across Dining, as a Production Manager at John Jay Hall, a General Manager at Ferris Booth Commons, and now in his current position of Assistant Director for Dining.
Aaron is also working towards his Master’s Degree in Higher and Post-Secondary Education Administration at Teacher’s College, expecting to graduate this May. Aaron most appreciates how his courses have helped him to understand the different departments and varied functions that all keep the wheels of the University moving.
Aaron attributes much of his determination and success to his parents who moved from Goa, India to the United States in 1983. “Growing up, my mother was my inspiration. It was through a lot of effort that my parents gave me a good upbringing.” Thanks to his parents, “I always aspire to learn more,” he reflects.
Bayo Otiti, Ferris Booth Commons
Bayo Otiti, General Manager at Ferris Booth Commons, has been part of the Columbia Dining team for close to four years now. After working at NYU for over a decade, Bayo began his time at Columbia as an Assistant manager in John John. After two years he was promoted to Manager at JJ’s Place, where he was incremental to its renovation, upbeat atmosphere and keeping its deliciously popular menu unique and fresh. In his new role at Ferris Booth, Bayo will focus on delivering the best customer service possible.
Bayo loves his job, particularly the added twist of trying out new dishes and experimenting with new menu items. Many of his latest creations are inspired by his favorite shows on the Food Network. This year Bayo plans to add even more flavor and colors to Ferris’ already tasty offerings. He’s on the search for that “wow factor,” and we have no doubt he will find it.
Bayo always welcomes input from students and tries to incorporate their feedback when thinking about new and creative ways to make food irresistible and wow his guests. Committed to the cause of serving fresh and healthy food, he encourages everyone to try out his new creations and let him know what you think.
Jayaraj “Raj” Ramachandran, Blue Java Dodge
After 10 years at cafés across the Columbia campus, Raj feels at home in Blue Java Dodge. “Just the simple coffee at Blue Java is my favorite,” he says.
The most rewarding part of the job for Raj is the opportunity to interact with students, faculty and other customers. Raj’s most touching experience was a parent thanking him for the coffee he brewed throughout the four years of her daughter's time at Columbia. It was a gratifying moment for him.
Constantly thinking of new ideas to bring the best to Blue Java, Raj hopes to see a hot food station open up soon. He feels students often in hurry would love to grab some hot food on their way to class.
After campus, Raj’s favorite place is Central Park. There, he can be spotted enjoying the sun and all that New York City has to offer.
Julio Rivera, Uris, Carlton, Lenfest
Julio Rivera was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. In school, he studied carpentry, but in his career he quickly discovered a passion for cooking. Rivera has been with Columbia University for over 10 years now, on both the Morningside and Medical Center campuses, beginning as a porter in Wien Hall and later at a Medical Center dining unit. Since his return to the Morningside campus, he was promoted from Porter to Head Retail Service. In this role, he helps supervise the units at Uris Deli, Carlton, and Lenfest Cafe.
Julio’s passion is cooking and still carpentry, but he most likes working with people. “I am a people person. Working at Columbia, I interact with people from all backgrounds and nationalities. It’s exciting to be a part of,” he says.
Julio is married and has a young daughter. “I love cooking for her; she eats everything I make,” he proudly says with a wide smile.