Saturday, January 19th, 2019

People of USM: Robert Ritchie

Posted on May 04, 2017 in Community
By USM Free Press

River Plouffe Vogel, Staff Writer

The University of Southern Maine is home to many bright characters. It’s a unique place that offers new and interesting experiences. For many students, finding community takes time, however there are certain individuals who bring the community to the students. Robert Ritchie is one of these individuals. Ritchie has worked in the Portland Woodbury cafeteria for almost five years now. He is originally from Australia and moved to Maine a little under 30 years ago. Since he started working in Woodbury, his attitude, friendliness and passion about his job and the students, have helped him become a local favorite amongst the entire USM community. His voice and charming accent can often be heard drifting above the hum of the cafeteria. As most people who know Ritchie will tell you, he loves conversation and always has a smile on his face.

Tell me a little more about your role here at USM, and a bit about yourself

My Name is Robert Ritchie. I’ve worked at the cafe for 4 years now. I started in Pizza with George for about a year. Then I moved to the fry station, then outback, and finally I worked outfront again first at the sandwich station. Now I do the local section, with food sourced locally from Maine.

I lived in Australia for two-thirds of my life. I traveled to America and Europe many times; the last time I traveled to Europe I met a girl. She was from Maine, and now I live in Maine! This stuff happens man. We have a daughter from Vietnam, she is 19, and she is attending the Wentworth Institute of Technology. She is a very bright young lady.”


What are some of your favorite dishes to cook or meals to prepare?

“I like to cook what sells the best, because it’s the most rewarding thing to make. You bought all my food, I’m happy. In the winter, it’s protein’s, big chunks of meat like pork, beef-tenderloin and meatloaf. Meatloaf is fantastically popular. I like making quiches too, of all the weird things, cause they all sell. There is no reward in making food for hours and having everyone just look at it.”

You have a really amazing and unique life and education, could you expand more on that? You have a several degrees, I understand?

“I’m short of degrees actually, that’s the problem. I need a lot more of that stuff. I studied retail and management first, working as [a] retail manager in a big store for five years. It was the oldest one in my country. Then I went to work for a big American ad agency for nearly 10 years, starting at the bottom and becoming an account executive by the end, and that was fun. I came from an airline family so I traveled non-stop, every month, all over the world since I was five. I even helped deliver John Travolta’s airplane before he had it. I studied horticulture science for three years, along with advertisement in my early twenties.

I ended up being a partner at a plant nursery, then an orchard with three guys in the mountains behind Sydney. Then my family bought a vineyard, so I worked there. it was a whole lot of fun. Eventually the lease ran out, so I decided to do something else. I went to carpentry and joinery school for nearly four years in Australia. They covered everything from the theory of skyscrapers, what holds buildings up, to what makes a swimming pool stay in the ground, to how to build a cute box or hang a door. I had a renovations business at that time, renovating highrise buildings with a 12 man crew. I ran it while I finished school. Then, when I was in my mid-thirties, I met my future wife on a trip to Europe and I’ve been in Maine for 28 years now.”

Would you mind telling me a little bit more about your life in Maine?

“I came directly to Portland and started working here. I moved and sold houses, I started a carpentry business called Down Under Carpentry, Tile and Paint, and I enjoyed it very much. Eventually I went to SMCC and in under four years got my culinary arts degree, which is technically an applied science. That was fun!”

Could you speak about what you enjoy most in working with the USM community?

“By and large everyone is fantastic. I haven’t come across anyone who was grumpy two days in a row. You know there might be a day when they have a couple tests, but usually everyone is fantastic. You just do it right and make them happy. Feeding people is great fun. You learn that many people don’t get three meals a day, so the one you get is important. It’s vital to ensure that one meal is good.”

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for students here at USM?

“I’ve thought about that: you got to keep smiling to start. You can’t let yourself get driven into the ground. You have to stay honest and upfront with people. I’m 62 and I think differently now. I’ve seen two people pass away this year alone and it changes how you approach life. I like working here, I like the students here. I don’t get down on them. I make them a good sandwich or meal, talk to them, get them out of their head a little bit. They’re good people. Not everyone thinks of it that way, but it makes work easy. It’s important to keep your chin up. You can learn a lot just doing things and that’s great! Being fairly up and cheery makes it so easy, people like you and it makes life easier!”

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