Seeking to overcome the stigma of being known as a just a cafeteria with an essentially captive audience, I-8 Food Services’ collective team of chefs, servers, and management staff strives to bring popular hot dishes and ready-to-eat foods on demand and customized to the particular tastes of both local and international students and school staff.
Catering Manager Pai Pispratuang oversees the preparation of the massive volume of food necessary to feed nearly 27,000 students and teaching and administrative staff annually. Using the previous semesters overall consumption as a guide, she has noticed patterns in the way people on campus eat.
“People are eating healthier,” she said. “About two or three years ago, they started eating more sandwiches, salads and juice, such as Naked Juice. And more vegetarian and vegan. The Asian line is very popular.”
In the Piazza alone, the staff serves 300 dozen eggs, 76 gallons of milk, 220 large pizzas, 650 bananas, 750 bottles of “Naked Juice” and a combined 2,200 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes, chicken, and assorted fresh fruit to about 3,600 hungry people, every week.
“It’s the executive chef who decides the whole menus for us,” Pispratuang said. “And that is based on the sales from previous years – the previous semester – and see what we sell the most.“
Even with weekly set menus, The Piazza caters to the average hungry student with a station serving made to order burgers, hot and cold sandwiches, baked potatoes, and blended protein and iced drinks, as well as the popular Asian and Italian lines, which change daily.
In addition to providing daily food for the campus, the company also provides catering for meetings and special events, such as that of a recent on-campus mixer in the Creveling Lounge. For the annual Black Student Alliance Mixer, students were treated to a spread featuring chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, macaroni and cheese, a colorful mélange of fresh fruit and assortments of brownies, chocolate pastries and squares of iced cakes.
As they enjoyed select desserts of iced carrot cake and fresh fruit to end their meal, students Elyse Mitchell, Charmaine Bolton and Kayla Hillery shared preferences compared to previous mixers catered.
“I like it when there is Mexican food,” said Hillery, referring to a previous mixer.
“The chicken and the mac and cheese is good,” said Mitchell. “But the chicken wingettes were the best last time.”
The catering facilities, kitchen, and serving and prep stations are the product of a fairly recent renovation. Its previous incarnation was the Checkers Cafeteria. The name was changed to the Piazza in August 2009, according to Stephanie Pulcifer in the Project Center. Owner Ty Yu and his company I-8 have been providing food services for Pasadena City College, El Camino College and the school district for about 10 years, according to Pispratuang.
“I came to work for I-8 Food Services about seven years ago, four years working at the Piazza. “ Pispratuang said. “Then I transferred over here. I started as a general manager in El Camino College and I worked my way up.”
The enormous kitchen contains three cooking stations: a grill for the Asian foods and a fryer, a grill for breakfast, and a grill for other hot foods. In addition, there is a baking station for breads, pastries and other baked goods, as well as a pizza oven.
All of these stations double in use for the Culinary Arts classes, which take place in facilities next to the kitchens, as well as the kitchen and prep stations. Storage areas keep commonly used china, catering china, and items that are used exclusively for special events.
From the warm and inviting offices filled with bright colors and Tiffany lamp lighting reflective of her personality and charisma, Pispratuang beamed with pride on the facilities and staff that she manages.
“I love being here,” Pispratuang said. “We all love being here.”