Cafeteria improves with Joseph Larue taking charge


Jax McLaren

Joseph Larue, SNU’s director of cafeteria services, has a passion for food.

Jax Mclaren, Editor

In his many years if restaurant experience, Joseph Larue has learned what matters most: The customer.

In the case of Sierra Nevada College, the customers are the students, and the cafeteria is the restaurant. Larue, 61, has been leading the kitchen and operations since April of 2020, and has made many significant student-centric changes. “I ask myself and my staff constantly that the moment the students don’t need us, what’re we here for?” he said.

Larue’s main objective is to have students enjoy coming to the cafeteria for meals. “I want students to look forward to coming to get something to eat,” Larue said. To help put out items that the students are happy with, he’s put out a suggestion box for students to ask for specific items or meals.

“I think it [the cafeteria] has definitely improved since last year, we are able to serve ourselves.” Austin Armstrong, sophomore, said. “The grill is awesome; it’s been great to have as well. It wasn’t open at all last year.”

Larue started working in food service since the age of 14. He has been in food service management for the last 20 years. Larue has a bachelor’s degree in advanced culinary arts from Johnson and Wales University, with an emphasis on food service management and nutrition.

“It’s not just how to cook, it’s the things that go behind it and the management that goes with it,” Larue said.

The emphasis on nutrition has served Larue well now that he is running a kitchen that serves a large group of student athletes. Many athletes have dietary restrictions and Larue finds ways to meet their needs. He also makes on-the-go snack bags for student athletes to take for away game trips. These bags are filled with healthy items like fruits and granola bars.

“We make sure they have what they need and what they want, which aren’t always the same thing,” Larue said. He provides high-protein ingredients for every meal, understanding that many athletes need a high level of protein.

Jeger Halbgorhus, freshman, is from Norway and is a member of the ski team for SNU.

As a student athlete living in the dorms, he relies heavily on the cafeteria. He is happy with the food they serve. “I’m really surprised, it’s good food. I especially like the breakfast,” Halbgorhus said.

One thing that Halbgorhus would like that the cafeteria isn’t offering is pizza. Larue would love to be able to serve pizza but has run into a few issues. Due to a short staff and a few broken parts, the pizza oven isn’t operational.

Larue hopes to open the pizza oven for the spring. He is currently buying parts to repair it so that as soon as he has enough staff to open it up, there’s nothing stopping him. He is specifically looking for dishwashers so that cooks can cook and stay at a station instead of having to stop mid-service to clean dishes.

Aside from the athletes’ dietary restrictions, Larue also makes sure that the students that are vegan or gluten-free are taken care of at the same standard. “Early on, a student complained that they didn’t see vegan items,” Larue said.

In response to that complaint, Larue made an adjustment to the kitchen. The cafeteria now makes a vegan version that mimics every meal they serve. “It’s not just a bowl of vegetables, I go to great lengths to bring in products to make sure that vegans are treated in the same light,” Larue said. He also goes to the same lengths to ensure that students with celiac or gluten restrictions are offered the same quality.

SNU has adjusted the class schedules so that every student is able to attend lunch. This adjustment has inadvertently pushed some students’ classes to early morning or late afternoon, right when breakfast and dinner is open.

Dinner in the cafeteria was previously open from 5-7 p.m. With the new lunch break, many students had to register for classes that go from 5-6:45 p.m. This left very little time for the students to have dinner.

Larue noticed this issue early in the semester and has already implemented changes to meet students’ needs. “We were getting students running down here at 6:45 p.m. trying to get whatever was left,” Larue said. “To me that wasn’t acceptable.” The cafeteria now opens at 4:30 p.m. with the full menu to give students with evening classes the ability to eat dinner without rushing.

Larue continues to put the students above all else. He monitors and adapts to their needs. “I just want to do the best I can and make everyone happy,” he said.