Kevin Owen: The Man Behind the Meals
Owen waits for students to arrive at the dining hall for lunch. PHOTO BY ROBERTA BURNS.
BY ROBERTA BURNS
Have you ever wondered who the person responsible for coordinating the array of food at Backer Dining Hall and the Johnson College Inn is? The mastermind behind all Westminster’s food services has served three U.S. presidents and has two World Series rings for his work planning events for the St. Louis Cardinals. That man is Kevin Owen. Owen is currently the college’s director of Dining Services and Catering and has been employed at Westminster for the past five years.
Although he is now the highest-ranking member in his department, Owen said that he came from humble beginnings. He grew up in Mexico, Missouri, and at age 14, started working for Village Wine and Cheese, a catering restaurant then located in Columbia, Missouri.
“I remember hauling ice from a truck out to the middle of a field for a wedding,” Owen said. “My entire arm was frostbitten, and the rest of me was drenched in sweat.”
After high school, Owen started his degree at the University of Missouri in 1986, majoring in international political relations, history and political science and minoring in marketing and business administration. He said that he left school early to pursue hotel management opportunities in St. Louis. Although Owen is a few classes short of earning his degree, and his career path has not taken him into politics, he said that he keeps up with current events and reads about political theory on a regular basis.
“I watch all the news: CNN, MSNBC, FOX, MSN,” he said. “You have to watch and listen to everything to get the right information.
After moving to St. Louis, Owen worked for the Cardinals, as the Fine Dining manager at Busch Memorial Stadium. He said that he was a member of the team that saw the current Busch Stadium being built from the ground up.
Owen said that his favorite part of his job is “being creative with the food services.”
Once the new stadium was completed, in 2006, Owen transitioned into the role of Manager of Special Events and helped design fantasy batting practices, weddings on the field and dinners on the warning track. He said that he was part of the planning team for U2 and Dave Matthews Band concerts that were held at Busch Stadium and received World Series rings following the Cardinals’ 2006 and 2011 championship wins.
Owen’s tenure with the Cardinals ended in 2012 when he developed colon cancer and needed time to recuperate and de-stress. He then began looking for work closer to his hometown of Mexico.
“I found the job [at Westminster] on Craigslist,” he said. “I was the Catering Manager for three years, and I’ve spent the last two years as the director of Dining and Catering. My cancer is also in full remission.”
Owen said that his favorite part of his current job is “being creative with the food services,” especially for Board of Trustees events and the Summer Alumni Retreat.
He is also responsible for adding new options to the food choices at the dining hall. Last semester’s additions include Stromboli, a waffle bar, Pasta Sunday and Smash Burger Friday. The latter involves a new specialty burger made for every Friday lunch.
“We watch what students eat every day for every meal,” Owen said. “Then we review at semester and long breaks to evaluate and see what is being eaten and what isn’t. We add new options based on what is popular with students.”
Mikaela Rettke, ’19, said that she appreciates these new options.
“You never think of something like Stromboli being served at a college dining hall,” she said. “It’s exciting that Kevin has all these ideas to enhance the food service more and more as time goes on.”
Although food is clearly one of Owen’s passions, he does not spend all his time in the kitchen. He said that he recently purchased a 4-acre hobby farm near Fulton, where he makes renovations to the house and additions to the farm whenever he can.
“I’m planning on building greenhouses this summer,” he said. “I have about 50 tropical plants that are just scattered throughout the house right now.”
“It’s exciting that Kevin has all these ideas to enhance the food service more and more as time goes on.” –Mikaela Rettke, ’19
Owen also plans to have a rose garden, fruit trees, berry patches and free-run chickens, he said. He added that he is looking forward to dedicating time to gardening and canning his fresh produce.
As an avid decorator, Owen said that he is eager to decorate his new home for the holidays, especially for Christmas and Halloween. He added that he intends to start growing his own evergreens so that Christmas decorations will have a special homegrown touch every year.
With his new farm occupying his free time and exciting new features like order-to-go Starbucks drinks being added at Westminster, Owen does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. He said that he plans to keep broadening the dining services available at Westminster and perhaps even take some classes to officially finish his degree.