The Luckiest Person
By Bekah Oester
When the Lucy Wheatley Dining Hall at Bowie State University opened its doors this semester, Ericlee Reed experienced the proudest moment in his career. After coming to BSU along with new food services company Thompson Hospitability on Jan. 5, he got right to work on much-needed renovations to the dining hall. Once the doors opened to students for the first time, Reed said the look on their faces was very rewarding. He is also looking forward to similar expressions of awe this August after additional renovations.
Reed, who has been cooking for 29 years, is the Vice President of Culinary Operations and a Corporate Chef for BSU's new food services provider, Thompson Hospitality. When a company such as BSU begins a contract with Thompson, Reed's primary responsibility is to ensure that Thompson lives up to that promised commitment. "We want to deliver beyond that," he said.
He does this through training at multiple Thompson venues and supporting the needs of the staff, which can sometimes be challenging because, he said "some of our standards are pretty lofty," and because "it takes awhile" to change old patterns and habits.
Reed's position allows him to be nearer to Thompson's products and customers, something he values. He said he especially enjoys the customer satisfaction aspect of his job through seeing the end result of Thompson's food making its way to the customer daily, as well as "being around food, period." It is very important to Reed that all food Thompson serves must be excellent because, to satisfy customers in the competitive food industry, "every dish gotta be a signature dish."
Reed, whose hometown is Atlanta, is looking forward to further growth within his company and the local community including his own relocation to Maryland. Thompson is present in many other venues in the state and the surrounding areas, although he said BSU "is definitely the crown jewel," because "this is a very prestigious institute."
Reed, whose father was a pastry chef, originally went to college to study speech and theatre while working in various restaurants. "I was always around food," he said. A person mentioned to him that he seemed happier at work than at school, which he realized was true. Eventually he left school to pursue his love of cooking. He received his culinary training from the U.S. Air Force, where he served for six years.
Upon leaving the Air Force, Reed "learned the hard way," and went to work in the hotel industry. He constantly prepared large banquets and worked for their restaurants, but had "zero quality of life." Eventually, in 1998, he left to work for a competing catering contractor, where he found a "balance," before coming to work for Thompson, which he loves because it gives him the opportunity to help shape the HBCU community as well as do other positive things that improve the catering industry.
He also likes the fact that his career with Thompson offers so many different things to do, which means he doesn't get bored. "We're very fortunate to be in the industry we love," he said. He is happy to be around food, great people, and in a great environment while he continues to help Thompson grow their presence in the community and catering industry. As he put it, "I'm one of the luckiest people because I sincerely get to do what I love every day."