Behind the Counter: Woodruff Cafe Employee Offers Tender Heart, Warm Service

Robert Shaw works at the Woodruff Cafe, satisfying famished students with delectable late-night food ranging from chicken tenders to onion rings
Robert Shaw works at the Woodruff Cafe, satisfying famished students with delectable late-night food ranging from chicken tenders to onion rings. 

At some point during your freshman year, you decided to make the trip to the Woodruff Residential Center to grab some late-night food from Woodruff Cafe. You most likely interacted with Robert Shaw. Shaw has worked at the cafe for six years and has earned a reputation among students as a friendly employee with a knack for remembering names.

“You get to learn a lot from different kinds of people,” Shaw said. “Different people from everywhere. You get to see how people think. Different aspects of life.”

Shaw has worked all over the Emory Campus from the Student Activity and Academic Center (SAAC) and Cox Hall to the Dobbs University Center (DUC), but says he enjoys the cafe because of its small size, allowing him to interact better with the students.

“He works really hard and makes an effort to remember your name if you go there a lot,” College sophomore Victoria Broderick said.

Shaw said that he loves working around the holidays when it’s final exams season, because students exhibit extreme stress levels and he can help ease their troubles with some comforting junk food.

“A lot of people come here and say, ‘I gotta be up ‘till two or three in the morning or all night. I gotta get some food,’ ” Shaw said. “They just talk about what’s going on with them. ‘I don’t know about this test.’ … You see how people react to maybe stress or whatever is going on with them.”

Some nights are different than others at the Woodruff Cafe. According to Shaw, Thursdays are usually the big party night, but students tend to remain respectful regardless of their level of intoxication. Shaw chuckled as he described a typical Thursday night.

“They come in here hungry, and it’s funny when they [hear] ‘I don’t have anything,’ [or] ‘We’re closed’ ” Shaw said. “Sometimes I might just have a side salad left, so I give them a side salad or a yogurt or whatever we might have left.”

These small acts of generosity and kindness have forged relationships between Shaw and students. College junior Neeraj Chawla frequented the cafe as a freshman and still remembers Shaw’s high level of service

“He provides the identity to Emory,” Chawla said. “He’s one of the figures that we associate with getting late-night food, which is a part of being an Emory student. He’s a symbol of the thing that unites us together.”

Shaw still keeps in touch with some alumni through Facebook and has even been invited to student graduation parties.

“If I get asked, I make sure I go or make sure I see them afterwards just to give them my blessing,” Shaw said. “But it’s nice to see people grow, become who they are.”

Originally from Milwaukee, Wisc., Shaw came to Atlanta after friends started attending Morehouse College (Ga.). He currently resides in College Park. Looking toward the future, he said that he aspires one day to own his own business.

“I don’t want to be an employee forever,” he said.

According to Shaw, the worst part about working at the cafe is balancing the hours with his schedule. He works two other jobs, which means he sometimes has to wake up at 8 a.m. and go to the moving company at which he works with his cousin. Shaw said that he also does maintenance for a couple different contractors.

Shaw advises students to stay in school and pursue what they’re passionate about so that they enjoy the work they do.

“You want to have fun at work and enjoy work, so find something that you like,” Shaw said. “Study it. Just try to be the best you can be at it.”

Shaw credited working with the college students, or kids, as he endearingly refers to them, for improving his interpersonal skills.

“‘Kids are kids,” Shaw said. “They’re honest. They say what want and it’s just the most real thing you can get. As adults, you look at people and try to read them just by looking at them. [Young people] say how they feel and what’s on their mind. It just makes it easier working here.”

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