Spotlight: Dining manager enjoys blend of construction, cuisine

When Thomas Smith thinks about what he likes most about working as general manager of the new Hill Dining Center, the sense of variety comes to mind.
(Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

"When I started in dining it was very basic with a few options and everyone stands in one line," he says. "But now we have total freedom."

Hill Dining, located at the newly renovated Mosher-Jordan Hall, has a menu distinct from all other dining halls on campus, and it offers ethnic foods, chef prepared salads and rotisserie meat. While the goal is to provide exciting options, Smith ensures that certain comfort food options are available every day.

For Smith, the most rewarding part of the job has always been helping students. "I love the fact that we get new kids every year, and it keeps me excited," Smith says.

During weekends and vacation time Smith takes on ambitious home remodeling projects, and over the course of the past 30 years he has renovated three homes. "It was a way to buy a home at a reasonable price, make improvements and then sell the house," he says.

Smith currently is remodeling his retirement home in Cadillac, and he intends to complete it by himself in the next 10 years during weekends and vacation time. The project will involve installing wiring, plumbing, heating, as well as the construction of two porches and a kitchen.

"Currently the house is just roughed in," Smith says. "That means no windows, interior walls, et cetera."

While he isn't busy with domestic construction projects, Smith enjoys playing golf and he is a lifelong U-M sports fan. "I had some conflict with hockey when I worked at Lake Superior State," he says, "But I always, always watched Michigan football."

Smith lives in Chelsea with his dog, a yellow Labrador named Rover. He has one son, one daughter and six grandchildren.

The Grand Rapids native began working at a restaurant at age 18 while attending Grand Valley State University.

"I started cooking, washing dishes," Smith says. Within two years he was promoted to manager and in 1976 he began working at the food services company Sodexho.

During Smith's 28 years at Sodexho, he managed a number of large-scale dining operations that prepared him for his current job. "I've supervised a lot of entities at one time," Smith says. Despite his extensive experience, Hill Dining is his largest project yet.

Before coming to U-M, Smith worked for 16 years as a manager at Lake Superior State, where he oversaw catering and retail dining. He also was the general manager of food services at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Traverse City, where he was in charge of three dormitories.

Smith came to U-M last October when the University needed a general manager for Hill Dining. In addition to those responsibilities, he also supervises the retail dining operations on the Hill, supervises Markley cafeteria and its retail operations and Oxford Housing cafeteria retail operations.

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