The executive's daughter

Claire Brady discusses father's role as CDS executive director, impact on her life

The Spectrum

Throughout her childhood, Claire Brady didn't see her father a lot and never understood why. They only ate dinner together when she and her family went to him.

The senior speech and hearing and health and human services major would sit at a high table at Applebee's, eating chicken tenders and drinking an Oreo milkshake, while her father was hard at work.

Upon attending UB, Brady began to comprehend why her father's schedule did not permit him to see her often. Her dad, Jeff Brady, is now the executive director of UB's Campus Dining & Shops (CDS). He works from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days per week and, occasionally, he works on Sundays. Throughout her four years at UB, Brady has witnessed her father's passion for food and its effect on people's lives, and she has become appreciative of her father's work. He has even influenced her to become involved with campus dining.

"He's so passionate about the food industry because he loves making people happy and he knows one of the most popular ways to do so is through food," Brady said. "You can see him running around campus going to every table in the Union and asking how their meal is and if there is anything he can do to make your experience better."

Jeff considers food to be similar to fashion.

He said workers in food service must constantly adapt to new trends on campus so CDS can stay up to date. His team often travels to colleges and local and national restaurants to learn about their operations and products.

Brady said her father is always looking for ways to improve CDS and seeking advice. Sometimes, he comes home from work and asks Brady to try certain foods and let him know if she thinks students will like it.

"I think the entire UB community, especially the students, is what inspires me the most," Jeff said. "I enjoy making the students' experience here at UB just that much better knowing that everything we do impacts their lives in some way. I enjoy talking to our customers, asking how their experience with our food service is. When a student approaches me and tells me, 'I love the food,' it really makes my day."

Jeff said a student once ran into the CDS office with excitement because she was so appreciative that CDS offered gluten-free rolls. He said it's the little things like that, knowing that CDS made a positive impact on a student's life, which inspire him.

Five years ago, CDS set out to be the No. 1 dining service in the SUNY University Centers, and it reached that milestone last year, according to Jeff.

Now, CDS is working to become one of the top 10 schools in the nation for food service assessed by the Princeton Review.

"We have had so many improvements over the past couple of years and we've only just begun," Jeff said.

Being the executive's daughter was tough at first, Brady said.

She did everything to avoid Jeff on campus. When she did see him, she'd run in the opposite direction. She did not want to be known as the director's daughter.

"I got a call from him in October of my freshman year," Brady said. "He asked if I would grab a friend or two and come down to the dining hall to take a picture with the food, so I regretfully decided to do him this favor."

The next week, Brady's picture was blown up and put on every Stampede bus. It still gets shown from time to time.

"So there went my cover," Brady said.

Her sophomore year, Brady began to date her current boyfriend. She tried to not let her father know, but that was quickly ruined when she sat on her boyfriend's lap in Pistachio's in the Student Union.

"Within five minutes, I had four text messages that read something like, 'Who is that?' 'Is that a boy?' 'Whose lap are you sitting on?' 'Claire.'" Brady said. "It's like he had eyes everywhere."

From seldom seeing her father prior to college, to seeing him every day, Brady has begun to understand what it's like to have him around.

She began to use his position to her benefit.

With the help of Jeff, she started the CDS student ambassador program. She, along with 10 students, would go to different dining locations on campus and ask students if they needed help understanding the meal plans or if they had any general questions.

Kasey Poloncarz, a senior health and human services and psychology major, started working with Jeff during her sophomore year. He asked her to become a student ambassador because he wanted students' input on CDS.

Each week, Poloncarz spent a few hours wearing neon-colored shirts and speaking to new students about meal plans, dining centers, where to eat and more.

Brady and Poloncarz describe Jeff as the kind of guy that actually makes things happen.

"He single-handedly made Au Bon Pain happen," Poloncarz said. "He [said], during my freshman year, that he wanted a grab-and-go station with coffee and vegetarian options. The next year, I moved into Greiner Hall and that very thing was feet below me."

Brady loved that her father helped her get involved on campus.

One night, Brady attended a basement party near South Campus. A kid pointed at her and yelled, "Hey! You're the dining hall girl." Instead of getting embarrassed, she laughed it off because she had become proud of being Jeff's daughter.

"As a senior, I realize how lucky I am," Brady said. "My dad's the most charismatic person I know. He's not afraid to go up to you at the Moe's line and ask you how your day is going or if he can do anything to make your experience with CDS any better."

Brady admires that her father goes into work every day with a smile on his face. Poloncarz calls CDS "Jeff's fourth child."

"As I always tell my kids, choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life," Jeff said. "The students, my coworkers and the food, that's what inspires me every day."