Staff Appreciation: An Interview with Tony Esposito

(Dina Cruz, Asgeir Nielsen, and Tara Yoo)– “What they all have in common is their warm hearts and willingness to form relationships with students.”

Surprisingly, this quote isn’t on our admissions brochure beneath a picture of a racially-diverse classroom and a smiling teacher. It doesn’t even refer to Amherst professors or to members of the Amherst administration; it’s about the college’s staff members. In a recent (article on ACVoice, Sharline Dominguez outlines the ways in which students routinely overlook the employees that make Amherst what it is, reminding us that we often fail to recognize the essential work they do every day to keep this place functioning.

Sharline’s article, an appreciative piece, brings up a lot of good points about how students ignore and overlook staff members, but by virtue of its appreciative purpose doesn’t discuss why this might be happening. To look into causes, we need only look to our own student community.

The fact that Amherst students are elitist and privileged should surprise no one. However, it is sometimes less clear how the privilege of being an elite college student manifests itself in interactions with persons outside of our immediate student community. Whether we focus on this privilege or not, the fact remains that Amherst opens doors that will forever remain closed to non-elite college grads. There is tremendous pressure to “make connections” and “network” in order to get the most out of our tuition. We (often unconsciously) speak to those students and alumni who might be able to help us in life.

This subtle elitism, itself a symptom of much greater issues, actually renders many people less visible (or even invisible) to Amherst students. We have been socialized to view others in our social milieu as assets and those “below” us as irrelevant. This means that people ignore and marginalize some of the people here with the most interesting lives and stories — our staff members.

Their stories can remind us that there is more to Amherst than students and faculty, that “there is still a world beyond the Amherst community,” and that to discover this world, all we have to do is ask. It is our hope that publishing interviews with staff members will continue a conversation of employee appreciation and critical examination of our campus culture.

In her article, Sharline specifically mentions our first interviewee: “of course, there is Tony who works at Frost, and all of you already know how amazing he is.” A lot of us do know Tony. But for those of you that don’t, don’t take our word for it — take this opportunity to get to know him.

Tony Esposito – Frost Cafe Supervisor

How long have you been at Amherst?
I’ve been on Amherst property for seventeen years — two years casual, fifteen years full-time.

How did you get started?
1995, I did my apprenticeship here from a culinary school, and I took a job doing salad department work, because it was casual and I just wanted to get my foot in. And then I advanced to a pot washer, because it was a full-time position with benefits. So I’ve been here about seventeen years. Quite a bit. I’ve had numerous jobs here at Amherst College; From being a pot washer, I moved to what was called a third cook, from there I went to being the night supervisor at Schwemm’s, then I went to the a.m. cash operations supervisor at Schwemm’s, then I went back to Val and was a second cook shift supervisor, then after that I became the night supervisor at Frost café.

What’s your typical day like as the night supervisor?
I think the typical day is just coming in and hearing all the great stories from the kids, you know? And how tired they are and how much homework they have, how many tests they have, how many papers they’ve got to write — I think that’s probably one of the best parts. We’re here to make people smile and make sure they’re getting good coffee of good quality and keeping them smiling, keeping them upbeat and moving. That’s probably the best part of my day.

I heard that there’s a Tony Special?
There is a Tony Special!

How do you make it?
I can’t give you all the secrets, but it’s just a cup of just good coffee to help you stay awake a little bit, for emergencies. It’s nothing that’ll kill you, it’s just a little extra caffeine. I’m going to have to put it on the menu, I think! I created it when my son was born. And I came into work and when he was a baby we had to get up, every hour, every two hours, so I came into work one day and I was really tired, and I made it. And I was like whoa! I just kept playing with it and I said, I’ve got to find something that really works well, and let me tell you, it works well!

Were you interested in coffee in culinary school?
I think coffee has kind of grown on me at this point. I try to do the best I can in every job I do. And coffee’s a science. There’s a show called Deadly Grounds, and this guy goes all over the world to find really good coffee, the best coffee. So what I try to do is not only to provide the best customer service I can possibly provide for people, but also give people the best coffee possible, and I think it’s a shame that most people just use coffee to stay awake. Now it’s a passion for me, and now I try to research what’s the best way to get everybody to be happy with the coffee. Basically my boss Rosa and I sit down and devise the menu, then we tweak it a little bit and try to make it to what the kids want and what the faculty and staff want. It’s different than Schwemm’s and Val, but we’re all a part of a big family. We all try to do the best we can.

How did you end up at Frost Cafe?
This position opened up and I thought, “oh my god this is great.” Here, it’s a mixture of both back of the house and front of the house. Here, it’s a mixture of both, but it’s mostly the front of the house, and I’m a sociable person, so I really like this job.

What do you do outside of work? I know that you ride a really cool motorcycle…
Thank you! I am in a motorcycle club, it’s called the American Legion Rider’s Association, and we ride for veterans. We raise money to help them financially whenever we can. Another big part of my life is my wife and my two kids. My wife Molly works over at Valentine Hall. We enjoy our family time — we just bought a camper and we’re going to go camping this summer. I keep a tight group. That’s my biggest thing outside of work.

You said you’ve been here for seventeen years. What made you decide to stay at Amherst for so long?
I love my job, I love the students, and it’s fun because when y’all come here as students, you actually are like lost little puppies, you know what I mean? And as you guys grow, it touches my heart because I see you grow. With the benefits, and the family, and that I can count on a solid team in a tough environment… I’m 17 years in, and I’m going to do another 20, 28 years. Amherst is a good place to work and a family-oriented environment. I know a lot of people, and a lot of people know me. I started here when I was 18 or 19 or something like that, so I know everyone. Compared to a lot of other stuff out there, it’s a great place.

How has Amherst changed in the time that you’ve been here?
I think Amherst has only gotten better with the events and the things they do for the students and the staff and the faculty, and the recognition — I think that’s really important. I think dining services has done an amazing job and will continue to provide the best services, and by having Chef Jeremy and his staff at Valentine Hall do an amazing job doing things like World Cuisine and other fun activities, like the picnics — you know it was all just little things a while ago, but now it’s just blown out. Graduation, I saw pony rides for the little kids. It was like a theme park! I think the strength and positivity of all the kids, and the different parts of the world they come from…it’s really nice and a great place to go to school.

This article is the first in a series in appreciation of Amherst College Staff.

Photo cred: Peter Mack ’15 via The Amherst Student