By Elizabeth Wall
One evening at Appalachian State University, students wandering into Sanford Commons for dinner saw an electronic sign for an entree: Chicky Chicky Parm Parm, the lexicon for chicken parmesan used by Aziz Anzari in the popular sitcom “Parks and Recreation.” They loved it – snapchatting and posting on social media while they lined up for what is actually a cafeteria staple.
The idea was John Welborn’s, who has worked as supervisor for Appalachian Food Services at Sanford Commons since 2015.
“It’s important to me that what we do relates to this generation. I want to connect with them on as many levels as possible,” he explained. “They like variety and fresh ideas. They want to have fun. I want to help make Sanford Commons the dining destination on campus.”
Welborn has a lifelong connection to Appalachian Food Services. He is the grandson of John and Vivian Welborn for whom Welborn Hall, Appalachian’s original dining hall, was named. John Washington Welborn was manager of the cafeteria and Food Services from 1939 until 1973. His wife, Vivian, taught in the Home Economics Department from 1944 until 1974, and served as a dietician from 1948 to 1963. Welborn Hall was demolished in 2009 to allow construction of Central Dining Hall, renamed Roess Dining Hall in 2014.
Reluctant to come so far to attend college in Boone, Welborn graduated from East Carolina University in his hometown of Greenville. However, he spent a good bit of his boyhood visiting his grandparents in Boone.
Welborn recalls eating with them at Welborn Hall as a boy. “It was different food back then,” he said. “Very institutionalized. Everything was individually wrapped. Salads were pre-dressed. It was a very sterile environment, lots of stainless steel... and the employees wore white uniforms and those little white paper hats.”
Welborn said he inherited his grandfather’s compulsion for order, hard work and attention to detail. “My OCD kicks in. I like everything in its place, including chairs and tables in a straight line and the salt and pepper shakers centered.”
John supervises the evening shift – 2:30 to 11:30 p.m. – and that attracts student workers. “It’s all about teamwork,” he said, “and they know I have their backs. If they need flex time, they get it. They are students first. But I expect effort and honesty. And, a desire to achieve makes for excellence. We have more than 100 students working for the venue and I can call every one of them by name.”
Since he was a teenager, Welborn has worked in every possible type of food service – from burger flipper to clubhouse manager at high-end country clubs to banquet manager supervising 20 banquet halls at the highly respected five-star Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. But he’s exactly where he wants to be today.
“I feel like I’ve come home,” he said. “My bosses are always supportive and positive. They let me do my job and help me when I need it. Y’all are stuck with Johnny Christian Welborn,” he exclaimed. “I’m here for the long haul!”
“It’s important to me that what we do relates to this generation. They like variety and fresh ideas. They want to have fun.”
– Food Services Supervisor John Welborn, grandson of the namesake of Appalachian’s old Welborn cafeteria