The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

NE cafeteria takes on new management with Neill

Celeste+Neill+prepares+the+grill+in+the+NE+360%C2%BA+Food+Court+as+the+food+services+manager.+Neill+came+to+TCC+in+2006+and+uses+her+years+of+work+in+the+food+service+industry.++Photo+by+Brian+Koenig%2FThe+Collegian
Celeste Neill prepares the grill in the NE 360º Food Court as the food services manager. Neill came to TCC in 2006 and uses her years of work in the food service industry. Photo by Brian Koenig/The Collegian

By Sandy Hill/reporter

Celeste Neill prepares the grill in the NE 360º Food Court as the food services manager. Neill came to TCC in 2006 and uses her years of work in the food service industry.  Photo by Brian Koenig/The Collegian
Celeste Neill prepares the grill in the NE 360º Food Court as the food services manager. Neill came to TCC in 2006 and uses her years of work in the food service industry. Photo by Brian Koenig/The Collegian

Growing up in a home where little cooking went on because her mom was busy holding down two jobs, Celeste Neill never expected to find herself cooking professionally.

But all that changed when she took a waitressing job in 2003 at Jack Shaw’s in Southlake alongside a restaurant owner and head chef who had previously worked for The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas.

“It was a very small restaurant, so I got to learn about pretty much every aspect of running it from people who absolutely knew what they were doing and did it with the highest level of integrity,” she said.

Neill brought what she learned from her years in the restaurant business to NE Campus in August, when she became the manager of the 360º Food Court.

Neill came to TCC in 2006 to work as a campus prep cook and cashier on NE Campus. Chad Neill, then manager of the cafeteria, hired Celeste to help with the summer program.

The two, who were married last year, met in 2003 while working together at Jack Shaw’s.

Celeste said Chad mentored her long before they dated and got married.

“Chad taught me nearly everything I know about cooking,” she said.

Chad said Celeste had no experience with cooking before they met.

“I guess she got to watching me cook in the kitchen and started becoming interested in it,” he said. “We both like to eat, so it works out well.”

Chad said his supervisor at TCC saw Celeste’s work ethic and ability and promoted her to manager of the café and coffee shop on South Campus in 2007.

“It’s amazing how fast she has excelled,” he said. “She pretty much went to management right away and came into her own.”

In Celeste’s new role, her day begins at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast and a morning snack she prepares for the 60 kids who attend the Children’s Center, an on-campus accredited teaching center and lab school. She follows that up later with lunch and an afternoon snack for the same group.

Following a specific timeline for each menu item, the morning crunch continues as she prepares lunch and fills catering orders.

Neill doesn’t accomplish these tasks alone. She has a crew of seven who keeps things moving forward.

“This is a good crew,” she said. “And I haven’t really ever had that before.”

Nikia Bolton, her assistant manager, has worked at the food court for two years and said she loves her job and working for Celeste.

“Celeste is one of the better bosses we’ve had here,” she said. “She’s outgoing and easy to get along with.”

With the sound of pots and pans clanging and water running in the background, the clean-up crew finishes its daily work around 3:30 p.m. Neill’s afternoon consists mostly of paperwork — receipts, inventory control and cost analyses. She wraps up her day between 4 and 5 p.m.

With a new baby at home, Neill likes the shorter workday compared to South Campus, where she typically ended around 6 to 7 p.m.

“I was working 50-60 hours a week there, where here I probably work 45, not to mention the commute was double,” said Neill, who lives in Lake Worth.

When it comes to food, Neill wants to provide students with the most bang for their buck. Most of her meals, including desserts, are made from scratch, she said.

“When you consider the per plate average that students are paying, it’s almost like restaurant prices,” she said. “They deserve to have something better, not just something out of a box.”

NE student Genna Slade, who eats in the cafeteria three times a week, said the food is delicious.

“You can tell it’s like a home-cooked meal,” she said. “It’s nutritious … and it’s very economical, too.”

Slade gave Neill a grade to be proud of.

“She gets an A+,” she added.

Cathy Rivers, a NE student who eats in the cafeteria once or twice a week, said she likes the menu choices.

“I like the variety. There’s a lot more to choose from,” she said. “I’ve tried all the new stuff, and I like that the specials are different.”

Rivers was referring to the Hotline Menu, also known as the Chef’s Corner, where Neill showcases entrées prepared daily from her own ideas.

“Baking is a science,” she said. “Cooking is an art, so you don’t have to follow a recipe in cooking.”

Neill likes the fact that she is not required to follow a pre-programmed menu.

“Because I am provided with quite a bit of creative freedom here and having had good on-the-job training and culinary instinct, being the manager of these cafes has always been a challenge I delight in taking on,” she said.

One of the concerns Neill plans to address this year is the need for more vegetarian meals.

“I don’t know if NE Campus has more vegetarians, but the vegetarians do have a louder voice here,” she said. “Veggie plates are always available, and I don’t use any pork in my beans, so all options are truly vegetarian.”

Stuart Pendell, a college associate from North Richland Hills Baptist Church, said he eats lunch with the college students every Thursday on NE Campus.

Pendell said the food has gotten better over time.

“We actually eat lunch here more often than we have in the past,” he said.

Neill said the one thing she wants students and faculty to know is the line of communication is always open.

Any concerns about dietary needs or quality of food are welcomed through e-mail or a phone call.

Neill said she loves her job here and hopes more people will give the cafeteria a try.

“You have to gain the trust of faculty and also the students,” she said.

Donate to The Collegian

Your donation will support the student journalists of Tarrant County College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Collegian