A day in the life of a Harvard General Manager of both Winthrop and Lowell House Dining Halls.
It's noon on a cold Friday, and Serie Demelo, is busy going over menus with a chef, scheduling shifts for 40 dining services staff and preparing the dinning hall at Winthrop House for the return of hungry Harvard undergraduates.
“We serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day,” says Demelo, who oversees the whole operation – literally from soup to nuts – as
the general manager of both the Winthrop and Lowell House dining halls. “That’s almost 12,000 meals each week.”
Demelo is unfazed even when adding all the behind-the-scenes tasks of budgeting for food costs, equipment maintenance and repair.
To run such a large operation successfully, she counts on a dedicated staff which she supports every step of the way. She arrives in the
kitchen nearly as early as the cooks in the morning, to say hello and see what she can do to help. She walks the dining halls during
meals to be sure students’ needs are met and to help service staff if they need it. For students with special dietary needs, she’ll
even go shopping herself to get hard-to-find groceries. She’ll stay late alongside her staff to prepare for special events like
She also makes a point of keeping an open-door policy so staff can feel free to share ideas and problems with her. “If you have good
communications and you plan well,” the work doesn’t have to be stressful, says Demelo.
Born and raised in Guyana, Demelo left the impoverished country as soon as she could. “There’s nothing for a woman [there], but to get
married. I didn’t want to be there,” she says. She also feared for her safety. “You’d wake up at night and worry that someone was
going to come and bludgeon your whole family. That was a possibility in Guyana,” she says.
She moved to Ontario with relatives at age 19, and then moved in with a sister in Boston two years later. She took a job at a Cambridge
hotel, where she met a co-worker whom she married within a year.
In 1989, Demelo’s sister, who was working at Harvard, encouraged her to apply for a general service position in Eliot House. “I wasn’t
looking for a job—I had a baby by then—but I applied anyway and got it,” she says. “I did serving, the salad bar, cleaning, whatever
I was asked.”
Just two years later, she was promoted to her first supervisory role in the Leverett House dining hall and stayed there for six years,
learning the ropes of the massive food service operation.
“I loved the job, and meeting students from all over the world,” she says. “I also loved it because I was acknowledged for my work.”
A promotion in 1999 brought Demelo to the Dunster-Mather dining hall as a customer service supervisor. She was promoted again in 2001 to
manage the opening of the renovated Currier House dining hall. When the general manager post at the Winthrop-Lowell dining hall opened
last year, Demelo again got the call.
“Dining Services is great,” she says. “They promote from within and they see your potential. I’m grateful to all of my directors who
gave me the opportunity to grow. I also love the teamwork here. I can call anyone and get the help I need.”