A voice from the canteen: MUNI is a brand and the pay arrives on time

It is the oldest canteen that Masaryk University has, and students and staff have been coming here to replenish their energy for decades. Oldest doesn't mean outdated. The catering facility in the Rector's Office building on Žerotín Square has been renovated several times, and a few years ago it even became a Veggie Bar, a restaurant with exclusively vegetarian and vegan food and raw food, a big novelty in Czech higher education. The canteen is run by chef Tomáš Brym and operations manager Marie Ženatá. For both of them, joining MUNI was a lifechanging step. And for each for a different reason.

“One day I got a call from a friend who is in charge of all the canteens at MUNI asking if I knew of any chefs available. I didn't know and hung up the phone, but then I was puzzled. I figured that this was exactly the change I needed, says Tomáš Brym, an experienced chef who has been through a lot in the industry. He was trained and started his career at the Interhotel Voroněž, where he stayed for 14 years and was taught his craft by the matadors of the industry. “It was a huge challenge. We prepared food for the hotel and the restaurant, and for small and large events, recalls Brym, who later switched to a classic restaurant.

A different environment and again work of a different nature. While in Voroněž you worked in teams and everyone was following someone. In a smaller restaurant one is alone or with a colleague and you have to schedule your work.

“You are much calmer and you have more confidence. I know my pay check will come into my account every month and I don't have to worry about being foreclosed on because someone isn't paying my insurance for me.”

Family first

“After a while, I realized I needed a change. It was during the time of covid, when there was a huge uncertainty in the gastronomy industry and various problems were showing up. I already had a family and I didn't want to have 15-hour shifts and working hours that couldn't be planned," says Brym, explaining what prompted him to call his friend back and take up his offer himself. Now, after three years of working at MUNI, he praises the less physical but mostly mental demands. “You are much calmer and you have more confidence. I know my pay check will come into my account every month and I don't have to worry about being foreclosed on because someone isn't paying my insurance for me, he says.

His colleague Marie Ženatá arrived at MUNI by a different route. “I was working as a manager of a wholesaler that supplied raw materials to the university. I knew that MUNI was a brand and it impressed me that there was a lot of room for development here, because there are a lot of events outside of the regular cooking, says Ženatá, who was offered the position of canteen economist. After four years, she moved on, and is now the operations manager. Together with the chef, she is in charge of the management and together they determine, for example, the amount of food to be prepared. It also involved one unusual challenge: Ženatá has created the first ever vegan and vegetarian university restaurant in the country.

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New challenges

“It was a big task. Few years ago, canteens didn't do anything like this. When they said vegetarian food, they meant mainly soya. We had to educate ourselves and create a large number of recipes. But I think it's a great step, and diners appreciate it, says the woman, who sometimes prepares desserts by herself and admits that nothing makes her happier than when someone comes and praises any dish. And that's what happens. Among other things, this is because the university monitors the quality of the ingredients supplied. According to Tomáš Brym, this is definitely not the rule in every gastronomic establishment. Elsewhere the pressure on price simply wins out.

When the two gastronomic specialists are asked what benefits they use and enjoy most at the university, they each answer a little differently. “There are a lot of them here - retirement savings contributions, 30 days of vacation – but for me the most important thing is really the greater peace of mind and having the space to be with my family. My quality of life here has improved, says Brym.

Marie Ženatá also talks about holidays and the possibility of planning them, but she considers something else more important. “I feel a lot of support from the management here and we have room to develop. The team is also great, we get along with each other and turnover hasn't been an issue here for three years.

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