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Campus & Community

‘Giant’ of Dining Services Bids Farewell

From Grilled Liver to Chicken Biryani, Interim Director Joe Mullineaux Dishes on Biggest Changes in 47-Year Career

By Karen Shih ’09

Joe Mullineaux poses outside Joes Grill

Retiring this month after nearly a half century with Dining Services, Interim Director Joe Mullineaux poses at Joe's Grill, named for him and the late Joe Pesce, a former colleague in Dining Services. Below, he helped serve up food at a resident advisor welcome event in the late 1990s, and later grilled up hot dogs at a Division of Student Affairs end-of-academic-year celebration.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Joe Mullineaux’s five-decade journey in Dining Services started with a contraband dinner roll, slice or two of roast beef, and squeeze of mustard.

It was 1977, and the sophomore been hoping to stash away a little snack, since dinner service at the University of Maryland dining halls ended at 6:30 p.m. But he got caught, and rather than go before the student conduct board, he chose the alternative option: 10 hours of dishwashing.

Mullineaux found he was pretty good at it, and he liked the camaraderie in the kitchen. He stayed on as a student worker and became a full-time employee, scaling the ranks over time to become interim director in 2022.

“Dining Services is a big family,” said Mullineaux, who also met his wife, Lynn ’84, assistant to the senior vice president and provost, at UMD. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful team, and they’re so committed to the students. And the students make me feel, like in my mind, I’m still 24.”

man in Hawaiian shirt poses at banana stand
Photo courtesy of Dining Services

Whether overseeing the dining halls, recruiting brand-name restaurants to the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, introducing convenience stores or overhauling Athletics concessions, Mullineaux has done it all at UMD. At the end of June, he’ll finally say goodbye to UMD as he sails off into retirement (sort of; he has a 30-foot cabin cruiser in Annapolis, where he lives).

Known as a “gentle giant,” one who’s played Santa for employee holiday parties and officiated at weddings of staff members, he’s being remembered as a mild-mannered but effective leader of the 1,700-member unit.

“He’s the backbone of the operation, and he has knowledge about everything,” said Shirlene Chase, assistant director of human resources. “He could be his own search engine.”

Campus dining has changed a lot since Mullineaux was first assigned to the new Terabac Room in the Cambridge Community as a dishwasher. It served then-trendy foods like quiche, crepes and fondue. He quickly learned to wait tables, do quick-order cooking and tend bar, and became the manager. (He even created a dinner theater of student-produced shows like “My Fair Lady” and “Grease,” the latter of which was so popular they did a second run.)

“Occasionally our team feels like they’re hamburger flippers in this world of academics,” Mullineaux said, but he reminds them that tens of thousands of people on campus rely on them every day. “Food just brings people together, and that’s why it’s so important to me.”

He and Dining Services colleagues highlight how he’s made his mark at UMD:

man cooks hot dogs on grill
Photo courtesy of Dining Services

The Chessie
Mullineaux has attended every home football game since 1977. But he’s only seen about 15 minutes of actual play (and that was only because the game unexpectedly went into overtime, and concessions had already closed). He was busy serving snacks and drinks, starting back when that meant hot dogs boiled in a basement room and sold from makeshift stands—just “a couple 2x4s with screens stapled on.”

Then in 2015, he led the creation of his “pride and joy”: the Chessie, the crab- and cheese-covered giant soft pretzel, soon named one of the nation’s best concession foods by Fox Sports.

“We thought we’d sell 10,” said Dave Bullock, associate director of retail operations. “But we sold out our entire supply in one game and had to get more. We had such a long line it took an hour to get one!”

That’s the type of innovation and forward thinking that has made Mullineaux such a valuable leader, said Bullock. “Joe was instrumental in getting us to invest in our concessions operations,” buying equipment like ice makers and deep fryers long before they were popular.

It used to be, “if you put a red sauce on it, they will eat it,” said Mullineaux, looking back at the 1990s, when meatloaf, roast turkey, pasta and pizza dominated the menu. While that was an improvement over the grilled liver, iceberg lettuce, celery and carrot sticks he had as a student in the 1970s, now “kids grow up watching Food Network”—and that’s shaped their expectations of the variety and quality of college food.

Enter Yahentamitsi, UMD’s first new dining hall in 50 years.

Mullineaux led the efforts “from day one,” said Assistant Vice President Colleen Wright-Riva, who previously directed Dining Services. “He really helped visualize what it was going to be” through site visits at other schools and meetings with architects and food service consultants. The “Joes Grill” station at Yahentamitsi, which opened in 2022, honors his work, along with that of the late Joe Pesce, former senior associate director of resident dining.

Today, Mullineaux is proud that the dining hall menus draw on the culinary expertise of its diverse staff—Dining Services has employees from 74 countries who speak 23 languages. “We’ll go to our staff and ask, ‘What did your mother make at home?’ And we’ll try to adapt those family recipes to be as authentic as possible, while making it educational,” he said, such as the Indian and Peruvian stations that now have “cultlike followings” among students.

Panera (finally!)
A 10-year pursuit of broccoli cheddar soup and hot paninis doesn’t sound appetizing. But that’s how long Mullineaux worked to bring fast-casual staple Panera to the university. When Adele’s closed in the Stamp, he saw the perfect spot for the restaurant—but the pandemic slowed things again. It opened in May, finally giving Terps the chance to “You Pick Two.”

“He’s a win-win kind of person. He works and works and works and rethinks things until he gets that yes,” Wright-Riva said, such as navigating licensing for a national brand under Maryland state regulations, a complicated process.

That’s just the latest in a long line of restaurants Mullineaux helped establish at the student union, including a full-service restaurant called What’s Your Beef?, a hole-in-the-wall bar called the Chicago Lounge that “had a line waiting for us at 8 a.m.” (when the legal drinking age was 18, of course) and the Big UM, a McDonalds knock-off that had the “Big UM” instead of the “Big Mac” and served fish sandwiches, quarter-pound burgers and fries. He also led the creation of Dining Services’ convenience shops and cafes—now nearly a dozen across campus—starting with converting Stamp’s Tobacco Shop in the 1990s.

“An era is ending,” said Chase. “Joe is a friend, a good professional, a confidante and someone who really cares. We’ll miss him!”



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