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'She's like a mentor': Worker in Union Chick-fil-A serves up smiles, chicken with great care for students

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Mary Taylor

OU Housing and Food employee Mary Taylor poses for a photo at the Chick-fil-A in the union on Jan. 24.

She’s probably taken your order, maybe even given you your food.

Each week, Monday through Friday, she sees thousands of people making the difficult decision between 8-piece or 12-count, pickles or no pickles, spicy or not spicy. 

She’s different from her student coworkers, and not just because she’s old enough to be their mom. She’s sweet. She’s genuine. And she always greets you with a smile, making for the quintessential Chick-fil-A employee. 

Most don’t know her name, and few bother to ask. But her familiar face — often standing behind the register second from the left, directly in the middle — and her friendly personality leaves some students wondering: Who is she?

She’s Mary Taylor. 

Her story is much bigger than the over 14,000 hours and countless orders she’s taken in her 79 months working at the Chick-fil-A in OU's student union. She’s a mom, a daughter and a diehard Sooner. 

“Chick-fil-A has always been a stable part of her life,” said Mary’s daughter, Lisa. “It’s the best of both worlds. It definitely equals out, her love for Chick-fil-A and her love for OU. So, combining the two, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her.”

And, in many ways, it’s been just as beneficial to Chick-fil-A and OU.

“I think what separates Mary is she comes in every day with a positive attitude,” said TJ Carter, general manager of Oklahoma Memorial Union’s Chick-fil-A. “No matter how short-staffed we may be, what kind of day it is, she always has a smile on her face and just goes with the flow. And that really is helpful to the rest of us who may not be so easy-going as Mary is — to be able to look up there and see her smile and greet every single one of our guests every day with a positive attitude means a lot.”

‘How could you not hire her?’

Mary often finds herself emotional when explaining her journey.

An Oklahoma City native and graduate of Putnam City High School, she went to work right out of high school. For a short time, she worked at McDonald’s while also raising her two children, Wesley and Lisa. Then, after a divorce, Mary decided to look elsewhere for work as a single mom.

That’s when she found the Chick-fil-A on 33rd and Broadway in Edmond, where her kids grew up. Next door was a daycare, La Petite Academy of South Edmond. It was perfect — she’d drop the kids off in the morning and pick them up after work. 

“My first memories are of her picking me up from daycare in her Chick-fil-A uniform,” said Lisa, now 26. “She would come home and smell like batter from working all day.”

Mary, now 54, spent 11 years at the Chick-fil-A on 33rd and Broadway, working every day except Sundays when the restaurant was closed. As her kids grew, she moved to the Chick-fil-A at 240 and Western, where she worked for several years.

She eventually left Chick-fil-A and Edmond, moving to Norman and working at Panera Bread for a year instead. Mary quickly realized how much she missed her old job, as she wasn’t able to get the hours she wanted at Panera and the atmosphere wasn’t the same. 

Lisa, who graduated from Norman High in 2012, began to search for a new job for her mom. She found an opening at OU’s Chick-fil-A in the union and immediately knew her mom needed to apply.

“I figured the University of Oklahoma is one of the biggest employers in Oklahoma, and my mom loves OU, so why not try to get her a job there?” Lisa said. “I saw they had a position open at the Chick-fil-A in the Union and, ‘Oh my God, this is perfect for her.’”

There was only one problem — the application required a cover letter and resume. Having worked in fast food for most of her life, Mary didn’t have either. Lisa, thinking of all the things her mother had done for her growing up, helped Mary write her cover letter and resume.

“I’ve helped people write those sort of things before, so doing it for my own mom was a no-brainer,” Lisa said. “I love returning the favor. Knowing that I can help her and that I am in a place in my life where I can help her out is very satisfying. She’s done so much for me and my brother. ... As a mom, she’s been there for us in a lot of ways that maybe other parents wouldn’t be.” 

Mary knocked the interview out of the park and received the job three days later. She started at OU in July 2013. 

“I mean, look at that face. Look at that sweet smile,” said Carter, who interviewed Mary for the position. “How could you not hire her?”

‘She’s like a mentor’

The last six and a half years have been a dream come true for Mary. 

She’s always been a fan of the university, keeping up with all the sports teams — she’ll never forget the day Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield showed up. She’s also fallen in love with Norman, living five minutes from campus off 12th and Vicksburg with her mom, Nancy, whom Mary helps take care of. 

But the reason Mary enjoys her job the most are the people she’s come to meet. 

“I think she really loves all her co-workers,” said Lisa, who is a private investigator in Norman. “She gets to know all the students who come through and work at Chick-fil-A. She enjoys getting to know them. She really enjoys showing them the ropes. ... She has really good camaraderie with everyone she comes into contact with. And I think that’s something she didn’t have as much at other Chick-fil-A (locations). 

“I think OU is what makes it special. She’s always been at Chick-fil-A, but OU makes it perfect.”

Mary tries her best to get to know all her coworkers, whether they’re bonding over OU athletics, the students’ classes or her love for the spicy chicken sandwich.  

“I think at first I thought, ‘This is kind of different.’ But I think as it’s gone (on) and I’ve gotten to know her, it’s been really nice because I see that there’s a person from another generation that I can connect with and have a genuine relationship with,” said freshman Jayden Brannon, who has worked alongside Mary for seven months. “Nowadays, having intergenerational relationships like that, I feel like it’s not very common. I love that she’s been able to grasp that and show it off to us.

“And to have someone like her, who is rooting for you throughout the school year when things get hard, and who’s there to just listen to you because you don’t have your parents or guardians there with you, it means a lot to us. She’s like a mentor.” 

However, Mary isn’t always working at Chick-fil-A. 

As an employee of OU Housing and Food, she’s trained to work at just about any restaurant on campus. When students run into her somewhere else, she’s often asked what she’s doing there. 

Mary simply replies, “Oh, it’s just temporary. I love my Chick-fil-A.”

“She’s very passionate about Chick-fil-A, and she’s very passionate about the university as well,” Carter said. “It’s really just been a perfect fit.”

A few thousand more orders are certainly in Mary’s future, and she has no intention of slowing down. While her dream job may not be considered the most glamorous, her ability to find joy in her work each day has galvanized those around her. 

“She’s definitely an inspiration to me,” Lisa said. “She’s shown me how important it is to be a positive person despite your circumstances. She’s taught me how to enjoy life’s moments. To put it simply, she’s taught me to make the best of a situation. 

“Her work is her passion. That alone is inspiring.” 

So the next time you visit Chick-fil-A in the Oklahoma Memorial Union, say hello to Mary and call her by name, recognizing her dedication to OU and its students. 

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” a tearful Mary said. “It’s been very rewarding, honestly, for me. Who wouldn’t want to work at Chick-fil-A and OU? Who wouldn’t?”

George Stoia joined The Daily in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore and has covered the soccer team, both men's and women's basketball, as well as the football team for the past three years. He graduates in May 2020.

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