5 Questions: Hospitality management from Disney World to the Spice Box

5 Questions: Hospitality management from Disney World to the Spice Box
5 Questions: Hospitality management from Disney World to the Spice Box

This week’s 5 Questions Friday features Jorden Brotherton, professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. He teaches hospitality management and oversees the Spice Box, a fine-dining, student-run restaurant in Bevier Hall.

What books are you currently reading (non-work)?

  • I recently finished an exceptional book called Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller. Reading it during the pandemic was a much-needed breath of fresh air. The author uses a blend of history, memoir, and scientific adventure to provide deep perspectives on living in a world where chaos and change are inevitable. Next on my list is The Value of Everything by Mariana Mazzucato. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I already really like it.

What’s your favorite place on campus?

  • Picking a favorite place on the University of Illinois campus is difficult for me. The Illini Union, the ACES Library, and the new Siebel Center for Design all come to mind. But, if I had to pick just one spot, it would have to be the Spice Box (room 286) in Bevier Hall. Technically, the Spice Box is just a classroom. But it’s so much more than that. During spring semesters, senior students studying hospitality management transform the classroom into a full-service restaurant and open it to the public. Being a part of that transformation, originally as an undergraduate student and now as a faculty member, is extraordinary. I have benefited so much from the time I have spent in that room. The Spice Box is where I first learned operations management. It’s where I met my beautiful wife, Erica. And it’s where I have the pleasure of teaching each week.

Where did you grow up? Do you have an agriculture background? If so, what did that look like?

  • I grew up in a small central Illinois town southeast of Springfield called Taylorville. Taylorville is most definitely a farming community. Growing up there, even if your family doesn’t farm, you can’t help but be influenced by agriculture. My dad, and his dad, both worked for a company that manufactures agricultural equipment. In high school and college, I spent a few summers working for that same company and developed a real appreciation for the ingenuity and hard work that is required to successfully operate a modern farm. Aside from agricultural manufacturing, I also have memories, some fond, of baling hay with my best friend and his parents.

When did you know that you wanted to be a scientist/teacher?

  • I’m a bit of a late bloomer in terms of academia. My original career goals were all operations and management based. My childhood dream job was to work for Disney. And thanks to some hard work and my undergraduate experience at UIUC, I was able to turn that dream into a reality. I worked in resort operations management at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL from 2010 to 2016. Early on, I assumed that I would continue down that path with Disney for the rest of my career. But in 2013, I started an MBA program at the University of Tampa. I was halfway through a great organizational behavior course when I had a conversation with my professor about her career and day-to-day work with students. That was my “lightbulb” moment. From that moment on, everything I did, professionally and academically, was in pursuit of teaching at the college level.

What’s it like working with students who are finding their way in the world?

  • I genuinely believe that I have the best job in the world. Teaching students who are bright, passionate, and curious is exceptionally rewarding. It’s not always easy. The work can be stressful and emotionally draining. But, introducing concepts to students in a classroom and watching them find success by applying those concepts in real-world scenarios is nothing short of magical. I live for those moments of realization and success. The College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at Illinois is great at fostering those moments and I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of it.