The distinctly masculine and unmistakably college-like aroma of pulled pork and mac ‘n’ cheese fills the air as a group of 40 brothers hustle in and out of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity dining room, settling in for a few moments of fraternal bonding time before succumbing to the conflicting responsibilities of college life. As of this semester, the fraternity’s new cook, Wayne Babcock, is the one who makes it all possible.
“It might not seem like a big deal, but the quality time spent in the house by the chapter increases substantially when there’s just food there,” said senior and ATO member Marcus Koperski regarding the new ATO meal plan.
After a year of eating meals at the back circle table behind the fireplace in Bon Appétit, ATO once again has an in-house meal plan due to the addition of their new cook.
“Everyone was thrilled,” Koperski said. “We had been waiting a little while to pick up a cook, but the wait was definitely worth it.”
Babcock, founder and former owner of three Jonesville restaurants, Olivia’s Chop House, Saucy Dog’s Barbeque, and Chicago Water Grill, has decided to leave the restaurant business and take up the task of cooking dinner for a group of 18 to 22-year-olds. Babcock said he is able to utilize some of the necessary skills from his restaurant experience with his new position, particularly menu planning and budgeting.
Dean of Men Aaron Petersen was shocked when Babcock, with his experience, reached out with interest of working with ATO. Babcock had the option of retiring or opening more restaurants in the area, but was immediately interested in working for the college after his mother, Barbara Babcock, mentioned the position.
“I have a young family, and this works,” Babcock said. “I come here around noon and I’m home by 5:30 or 6:00 monday through Friday.”
Babcock’s two kids, Ethan, 6, and Olivia, 8 — the inspiration behind Olivia’s Chop House — are a big reason why he took the position, in addition to the proximity. After growing up in Hillsdale and graduating from Hillsdale High School, Babcock currently resides in Jonesville, making it a short ride to work.
The hiring process eventually included junior and ATO President Reagan Wardie around the time of final exams last semester. Wardie said it had been a long time in the works, having gone without a cook since the last one left at the end of fall semester of 2017.
“We had gotten a couple leads since then but they fell through,” Wardie said. “Then Dean Pete reached out at the end of last semester and had hired him like two seconds before I met with him actually.”
The current meal plan consists of four options, the same number that Bon Appétit offers, and at the same price. All the plans include dinner at the ATO house each week night, but they vary in the amount of meals they offer outside of the house. The 11 block meal plan is equivalent to five meals a week in Bon Appetit, the 150 block is 10 meals, and the 19 a week or 200 block plans offer 15 additional meals. All members of ATO are required to be on the meal plan.
Aside from the actual meals, the members have leftovers and snacks kept in the house, which Babcock buys for them mostly based off what he thinks they would like.
“One guy said ‘give us carbs and protein and we will be happy,’” Babcock said. “And they are.”
Based off his weekly budget, provided by the dean’s office, Babcock first gets all the necessary food for the meals, emphasizing good quality foods, and then buys snacks with whatever is leftover. Although he leaves work Friday with what may seem like a stocked cabinet, he said he always returns Monday to a completely empty kitchen.
When it comes to Babcock’s performance, members of ATO didn’t hesitate to sing his praises.
“He is very organized and extremely good at his job,” Wardie said.
Wardie described their expectations of cleaning up after Babcock did the cooking, but said that Babcock chooses to clean all his own dishes, going beyond their expectations.
“He even has an appetizer sometimes,” Wardie added.
Babcock’s typical work day starts at 1pm and ends when he serves dinner at 5:30. ATO members float in and out due to different work or commitments during that time.
“He definitely seems like he understands the day-to-day hustle and bustle around here and he just wants to make sure food is something we don’t really worry that much about — instead something to look forward to,” Koperski said.
Babcock said as soon as some of the guys get home from class they begin to look around for snacks and, depending on what’s available, he tries his best to make what they want. But it can be a challenge.
“Boy can they eat!” Babcock said. “Sheesh. You think you’re cooking for 40, but you’re really cooking for 60. I anticipate cooking for 60 adults, which is really just 40 of these guys.”
Two members, seniors Marcus Koperski and Jacob Broussard, work on the kitchen crew, cleaning up the area and washing only the dishes they used to eat. But the process isn’t complete yet.
“The time commitment for two guys is between one and two hours a night,” Koperski said. “That can vary though because some meals take a lot of time to cleanup after, others not so much, sometimes one of the guys who was supposed to help clean has something come up and it’s all up to one person.”
Wardie said that, for right now, Koperski and Broussard are the only two on kitchen crew, but he hopes that will be changing soon.
In terms of the menu, Babcock has his recipes that he used for his restaurants.
“Basically the guys said ‘whatever you want to make, we’re happy with,’” he said. “I crafted the entire menus [for Saucy Dog’s Barbeque and Olivia’s] myself, built them, owned them, operated them.”
The members of ATO seem to be fully satisfied with Babcock’s creations.
“The best meals are the original recipes the cook makes,” Koperski said. “He started both Saucy Dogs BBQ and Olivia’s so he knows what he’s about. I won’t lie, the pulled pork and mac ‘n’ cheese was a hit.”
Babcock said his spaghetti dinner particularly impressed.
“40 pounds of spaghetti last night. There’s not a scrap left,” he said. “A pound a piece, plus breadsticks.”
In looking forward, Babcock said he would like to see all four fraternity’s on meal plans. In talking with Dean Peterson, he said there’s a possibility for a future joint meal plan, although nothing is currently in the works.
“I have ambitions to be more involved in Hillsdale College going forward,” Babcock said.
For now, he’s still developing the ATO menu as time progresses.
“They gave me the budget and said to just keep the guys happy,” Babcock said. “That’ll be easy.”