Tag Archives: lunch

Eating As a Silicon Valley Techie Eats


My wife and I walking on the Golden Gate Bridge this spring break.

During spring break this year, my wife and I flew out to San Francisco to visit with our son and his wife.

They both work in technology out there—she designs human-machine interfaces for Samsung, he is a software engineer for WhatsAp, a division of Facebook.

nalena and jon

Daughter-in-law and son do an “ussie” during a visit to a San Francisco park with us.

One highlight of our visit was the half day we spent at the Facebook campus. With tens of thousands of high tech employees, the company’s site is a mini city. It has a main plaza with shops and restaurants, for example. You can get your hair cut, visit the dentist, drop off some dry cleaning and get your bicycle fixed (or buy a bicycle) without leaving the company grounds.

Jon explained that he thought it was just smart for the company to provide those kinds of services because tech employees are highly skilled, and the corporation benefits by providing services that keeps those people together and talking with each other.

The day we visited Facebook, we ate both breakfast and lunch there—and both meals were a surreal experience. You walk into a company cafeteria, grab a tray, and go through a food line—and then there is no cashier. You just proceed to a table to eat. Have as much as you want of whatever you want.


It does rain in California, despite the song. Drizzly day when we visited Facebook.

Again, Jon noted that the food perk, while costly, enhances collaboration and boosts  morale.

Gosh, my wife and I said to each other during the visit. That seems like a neat idea. Maybe they could do that at Mount Mercy University. Then, we shared a laugh. We don’t work for a rich, high-tech company.


At Facebook, they have a wall where you can post any comment you want for random passing people to see. Someone should invent an online equivalent …

Well, surprise, surprise—fast forward to this week, when we had the “opening day” all-employee assembly in the chapel. The President was speaking, and announced a new program at MMU.

On one designated day each week, employees can have lunch in the cafeteria. For free.

The day is Friday in September, and will change each month.

The idea is pretty simple. Students eat there all the time, and having faculty and staff share a meal encourages informal conversations, both among employees and between employees and students. We can break bread together and hash things out over hash.

They don’t offer free food daily, and don’t have the kind of variety and fancy eateries Facebook offers. What’s available is college cafeteria fare. Some may balk at that—it is institution food.

Me? Most days I brown bag it, but in the past on very busy days, such as when I’m staying late on campus for a newspaper production cycle, I have eaten in the cafeteria. And I love my cafeteria days, for several reasons:

  • I like the collaboration it fosters. I have ended up, unplanned, chatting with others about all kinds of topics related to MMU. A lot of plans for the Fall Faculty Series have been hatched over lunch in such informal encounters.
  • I think there is value in seeing my students and them seeing me in this context. If you encounter a person as a student in a class (or as a professor in the class) you have a particular kind of relationship. Seeing them in another place doing something entirely else sort of humanizes them. It makes them more of a familiar “person” rather than “student” or “professor.” In particular, there is something a bit interpersonal in being in proximity to another as they eat. You don’t eat with enemies, and the people that you regularly eat with become, in some minor way, a bit more family like.
  • I love cafeteria food. I know many students complain about the cafe food, and maybe with some reason, but in my experience the cafeteria offers a buffet of wondrous delights. Their cooks have a slightly heavy hand with spices—sometimes you scoop up some veggies and are thinking “bland” and you take a bite and suddenly you’re thinking “chilies.” But I am a spice boy. I’ll tell you want, what I really, really want—some pork or chicken or fish coated in whatever breading, served in a giant pan under a warming lamp prepared by the fine cooks at MMU. Maybe some of my MMU friends don’t agree—food opinions are like music opinions, they are personal and nobody need apologize for their preferences—but I am a fan of MMU cafeteria food. Go Mustangs! To the feed!

Anyway, I understand that the free food program is an experiment, and that it is offered only one day a week. I am also familiar with the old, reliable, wise saying TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). MMU will continue the program only as long as MMU sees some payoff, and if budgets get tight, so might our waistbands.

But for now, I can eat like a techie, at least once a week. I think it was a smart idea for MMU to introduce, and I hope it does what the powers-that-be hope it does so it can continue.

More networking and contacts between employees and students? A plus. Soft serve and salad bar? Count me in.


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Unexpectedly Finding Tremendous Tenderloin


Interior of Town House Tenderloins, Cedar Falls.

Sunday afternoon. We had left Cedar Rapids just before noon to drive our son Jon to the airport. He’s flying back to San Jose, California—he lives in San Francisco and works at What’s Ap in San Jose. He started the job recently, and has to work Monday, but was able to stay with us for a while around Christmas, which was nice.

In fact, the Christmas season was a bit of a guy fest. The younger of my two sons was able to drive over from Ames for a few days, and between Jon, Ben and I, we did some amazing guy things—playing Risk, going to The Martian at Collins Road Theater, upgrading computers to Windows 10—all fun guy things. And both Ben and Jon got to play with the youngest guy in the house, young Nathan, born Dec. 10. He didn’t drink any of the beer, but was fun to hang around with, so I think Nathan is definitely welcome in our guy club.

Anyway, today it was time to say farewell. Ben wanted to drive back to Ames before winter rears its ugly head, and Jon had to wing it to the West Coast.

Anyway, we didn’t eat before dropping Jon off at the Waterloo Airport, so were a bit hungry. We’ve eaten in the past at a combo A&W/Long Johns, and decided that might be an OK lunch spot, even if Long John’s is long gone.

But we weren’t clear on how to get there. So we drove over to a business strip in Cedar Falls and searched for a while. We didn’t see A&W, and decided that our only rule was we would eat somewhere that we don’t normally eat in Cedar Rapids. An IHOP caught our eye, so we headed over there—but it appears to be a new place under construction, and was not open.

It was sad to have our taste buds first calibrated for root beer, then pancakes, and have neither desire fulfilled. Then, in a slightly seedy looking strip mall, next to a dance studio, we saw a sign that said “Town House Tenderloins.” Critically, there was also a key glowing neon sign: “Open.”

We parked. Audrey looked around at the older, dented cars occupying the parking lot, and wondered what we were getting into. But we were brave or foolish and pushed on.

Well. As it turned out, the joint serves really awesome tenderloin sandwiches—very generous tenderloins, breaded well with what seems to be breadcrumbs and cooked to a hot perfection, served on a large toasted bun. Audrey ordered the “queen” basket, while I got a “king.” Note to the wise: for most appetites a “queen” would be more than adequate.


Lots of cars on the walls.

The baskets came with fries and a drink. The fries, to be honest, weren’t that great. They weren’t terrible, but were pretty everyday fast-food fries.

But the point of a tenderloin sandwich is the sandwich. Besides the aforementioned well-cooked slabs of pork, the diner featured a condiment area with several pickle choices, two kinds of hot peppers, onions, lettuce and tomato slices. I opted for a bit of mayo on my bun with lettuce, dill pickle, jalapeno and tomato on my tenderloin. It was spicy and delicious.

The restaurant is far from fancy. The employees were dressed rather shabbily, for example. The interior featured a car decor, which is fine with me, if a bit eccentric and irrelevant to the food.

After our trip, I looked up the restaurant on Yelp. The reviews were very mixed, with some diners complaining that the restaurant seemed dirty (it wasn’t, as far as I could tell—blue collar, but not dirty), while others praised the tenderloins.

Well, Audrey and I both fell into the “praise” category. If you want a generous tenderloin, don’t mind a bit of a minor wait and can handle the sketchy atmosphere, I would say Town House Tenderloins is a great place to visit. Honestly, if we go to the state park in Waterloo to ride our bikes in summer 2016—a definite maybe for a road trip—it’s likely that we’ll look up the address of this place (618 Brandilynn Blvd # 4, Cedar Falls, IA 50613) and type it into our GPS so we can find it again.

I’m a fan.

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The Lunch Break For A Tree Rodent

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My diet today is pretty set—pie for breakfast, cold turkey sandwich for lunch followed by pie for desert, maybe some warm leftovers for supper. Such is it always the day after turkey day.

I don’t mind the wake of Thanksgiving Day—in fact, I am such a lover of the after-Thanksgiving cold turkey sandwich that I consider this to be probably the best food day of the year.

Anyway, I was a good boy and went to the gym this morning-which is unarguably a good thing, considering my eating plans. Before getting dressed, I chanced to look outside and saw this tree rodent dining on my crab apples.

It was a cold day, as you can see from his or her fluffy fur and tail. I have long enjoyed watching squirrels. They were always “there” when I was growing up in Clinton Iowa, a fun animal to watch. Once, when digging for some random reason, I found a skull in my backyard, and my father identified it as a squirrel skull.

It made me really sad to think that a squirrel had died.

Now, as an adult gardener, I must admit squirrel death doesn’t have quite the same tragic feel to it. When I find one of those tree rats digging for my flower bulbs, I do have less than charitable thoughts. And when we lived in Missouri, there was a family of tree rodents living in our attic that we waged a mighty campaign to oust. I don’t know for sure we succeeded. They have teeth that are prodigious in their gnawing ability. And they attack bird feeders, too. So I have lots of reasons not to like squirrels.

Yet, they are far less destructive than the Satan of the garden that hops along with its darn cottony tail and long ears. I would rather have 20 squirrels than one rabbit.

So, I will suffer the squirrel. Let him or her eat. He or she needs the calories on this cold, windy day. So, I’ll fix me a turkey sandwich and watch out my window. I just saw a cardinal in a bare lilac bush, but was downloading squirrel images, so I didn’t try to shoot it. Feed on, tree rodent. I bet my lunch tastes better than yours.

Nov. 28 update:  On Sunday, I saw a neighborhood squirrel, possibly the same one, eating in a pear tree right next to my home office window.  Closer images are on this Facebook gallery.

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