Thesis student Johannah Birney steps up as new Four Winds manager

Her first job was as a four-year-old hostess at a steak house her dad managed. Now, after years of having worked with her restaurateur parents, thesis student Johannah Birney is ready to take on the challenge of being the new Four Winds manager beginning in August 2012.

As a result of growing up with parents who both owned and operated their own restaurants, Birney said she now “love[s] the hospitality industry.”  Birney, who passed her baccalaureate exam at the start of the spring semester, even wrote her thesis on the Four Winds as an ecological community.

“I wanted to look at the Four Winds from a community perspective,” Birney explained. “What does New College need from the Four Winds? What should we strive for?”

Birney has worked at the Four Winds for two years and currently makes the wrap material for grab ‘n’ go meals.  “I always wanted to work at the Four Winds from the first day I was at New College,” Birney remembered. “The fact that the Four Winds is a vegetarian café made me extremely interested.” Birney also thought the café being student-run made it a “pretty special case,”

Many students are no doubt wondering what Birney’s plans are concerning her new management position. Birney said that first and foremost, she plans to “have a very strong, well-trained staff that works as a team to create a more consistent dining environment.”

When asked what course of action she’s considering taking in regards to the current staff, Birney stated, “I have not made any decisions.”

However, when it comes to both securing and increasing the Four Winds’ position on campus, Birney has many ideas already in the works. “We’re on the cusp of something brilliant with the Green Fee being used at the Four Winds,” Birney said. “Other than University of Southern Florida (USF), New College is the first college to get the Green Fee.” Birney also added that New College will be the “first college in the United States to use the Green Fee for a restaurant.”

Birney has done more than her fair share of research on the topic, and explained to the Catalyst that “restaurants employ more people than any other sector, other than the United States government. [Restaurants] use more energy per square foot than any other commercial building.” Therefore, if one wishes to use the food service industry in order to research how to fight climate change, looking at the Green Fee being used by a college restaurant is a great place to start.

“Ten years from now, restaurants across the U.S. are going to have to be doing what the Four Winds is doing,” Birney continued. “So we can be the first.”

There are other goals Birney has in mind. Her long-term goal, which she acknowledged may not be accomplished in her year-long employment as manager, is to get the café certified by the Green Restaurant Association.

“We have enough criteria to earn a three-star certification,” Birney said. “And there are only two four-star Green-Restaurant-certified [restaurants] in the U.S. If the Four Winds could turn from a café that is in debt to a four-star certified restaurant, it would be one of the greatest turn-arounds in history.”

Birney also believes that getting the Four Winds certified would bring some much-needed attention to New College, especially because of New College’s history as having some of the worst food in American colleges.

While Birney did not hesitate in clarifying that “money should not be the goal of life,” she also recognizes that the Four Winds “wants and needs autonomy, and the only way to be independent is if you earn every dollar you spend.

“I want us to be in the black,” Birney went on to say. “And there are plenty of ways to save money. Not wasting food is number one. If you’re going to buy food, it should be sold.”

When it comes to the students, Birney wants the Four Winds to continue being a place that her peers love to go. “I want people to crave the Four Winds,” Birney said.

As for what changes the Four Winds may be going aesthetically, Birney believes that “cleanliness and fresh paint go a long away” and she’s hoping that next year students may not even recognize the café when they walk in. Birney would like to change both the kitchen and dining room layout, maybe even with new furniture.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Birney concluded. “But it has potential.”

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