Sept. 12, 2022
Contact: Marcus Wilkins, email@example.com
Adela Caratti bustles behind the silvery sheen of her flattop grill, checking that her culinary implements are in order. She is particular about the tools of her trade — spatula, tongs, a fridge stocked with appropriate counts of cheese, burger patties, etc. — but not obsessively so. She simply likes things in place so she can focus on what really matters: the more than 300 residents in Mark Twain Hall who regularly dine at The Mark on 5th Street.
“This is my comfort zone,” said Caratti, a food-service worker for Campus Dining Services at the University of Missouri. “I enjoy serving food and giving these kids an opportunity to say, ‘I aced that test!’ or ‘I’m having the worst day’ or ‘Look at this photo of my puppy!’”
When Caratti isn’t whipping up special-request omelets, servicing the cappuccino machine or wiping down counters, she can often be found at the register dispensing hugs. Her quick laugh and eagerness to hear about residents’ days has made her a favorite among students for 24 years. It’s no surprise that former freshmen often return to The Mark before commencement to say farewell.
“I try to remember names and regular orders, and I try to notice the little things when making conversation,” Caratti said. “I also share some details of my own life so it’s more comfortable. These are the shared moments that give me a chance to see things through their eyes … I just love it.”
Food and service
Caratti’s vivid recollection of details dates to her childhood in Corpus Christi, Texas, when the fragrant flowers on her great-grandmother’s front porch wafted through the tiny home to mingle with the fruit blossoms out back. As a child, she sat in the sunny kitchen chatting with her abuelita who hand-patted corn tortillas.
When Caratti was in the third grade, her family relocated to Healdsburg, California, where they worked in wine country picking prunes. It was backbreaking work from dawn to dusk, but Caratti and her five siblings — four sisters and a brother — made the most of it.
“We would sometimes throw the prunes at each other and laugh,” Caratti said. “When the fair would come to town, Mom would say, ‘however many prunes you can fit in this basket, that’s your allowance.’ Then we’d go ride the rides or see the musicians.”
After high school, Caratti worked several manufacturing jobs in the Bay Area. When her husband found work in Columbia, she and her 6-year-old son traveled to the Show-Me State to join him in 1996. A temp agency placed her with Campus Dining Services, which assigned her to Dobbs Hall. (It has since closed.)
“They put me on grill my first day, and I was totally lost. I didn’t even know how to cook a hamburger,” Caratti said. “Thankfully, I didn’t burn the place down!”
Eventually, Caratti found a permanent home at Eva J’s, the former café in Johnston Hall. Along the way, she cultivated friendships, impacted the lives of young people — student-workers and student-customers — and brightened innumerable days.
“My first day on the job I was so overwhelmed with the number of customers, it was really difficult,” said Tarun Chand, a senior computer science major from Nepal who works at The Mark. “But the next day, they had me train with Adela and everything started to click. She is so patient and kind. Now I look forward to running the grill.”
Caratti has been a meal-dealing dynamo at The Mark for eight years, and students often seek her out to say ‘hi’ regardless of whether they’re ordering an expertly grilled item or are simply on their way to class. As the primary residence hall for students in the MU Honors College, Mark Twain Hall houses some of Mizzou’s highest-achieving undergraduates — a fact not lost on Caratti.
“I learn a lot from these kids, and it’s amazing to see that they all have a dream they are working toward,” Caratti said. “Sometimes when they tell me about what they’re studying, I have no clue. I just smile and encourage them. Ignorance might be my blessing.”
Some of Caratti’s favorite former customers — whom she often runs into around town or at Homecoming events — have gone on to work as TV newsroom managers, high school principals, politicians, doctors, CEOs and high-tech researchers. She has celebrated with those who have landed exciting summer internships, made the dean’s list or come out to their family. She has also grieved with those who have lost classmates or loved ones.
“Adela always greets you with kindness,” said Mae Bruce, a senior journalism major and Honors College student, from Leander, Texas. “Even when she was the only employee there and there was a super-long line, she always made everyone laugh. She’s just one of those people who gives you a reason to smile — even on a bad day.”
After more than two decades of feeding Tigers, Caratti shows no signs of waning enthusiasm. Her daily routine continues to bring her joy and satisfaction, and her fun-loving spirit seasons each entrée she serves.
“Every year brings a new group of kids,” Caratti said. “I just try to go with the flow and give them an opportunity to express themselves. And sometimes you don’t even need words. You just hug them and let them know you’re there.”