Upon waiting for his order at Chick-fil-A in the Bullpen for roughly half an hour, freshman Gary Sams finally worked up the courage to ask an employee what the reasoning was for the long wait. What Sams did not expect was the overwhelming compassion and hospitality that radiated from him.
The employee, Charles McCray, is known and beloved by students for his signature booming voice when calling out student orders and his personable conversations that make them feel at home while simply ordering their food.
“I had been waiting on my order for a good 20-30 minutes and I finally worked up the courage to approach the counter and ask what had happened,” Sams said.
“Mr. Charles apologized profusely and explained that my order must’ve been marked as fulfilled through the Grubhub terminal when that was not the case. He then had my order made quickly and even threw in a free drink for the hassle.”
McCray, from Lake City, began working in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) in 2007. He started out at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, which was located in the Bullpen before Chick-fil-A and Bento Sushi took its place in fall 2019. However, he said he has always maintained a welcoming personality and warm gestures even before his current role as a lead supervisor at Chick-fil-A.
“When I was working for Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, I was a lead cook. They put me in a role like a supervisor,” he said. “When I took the food to the table, they had me go out to the tables to check on people to see how the food was.
“I was still meeting and greeting people at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, and that’s something that Chick-fil-A noticed and that’s why they wanted me in that role today.”
McCray said his favorite part of his job is being surrounded by students and being able to interact with them on a daily basis as it makes it enjoyable for him to come to work each day.
“If you come in, you’re going to hear me. I have a loud voice,” he said. “[I enjoy being able to] just see how they light up when they come through the doors and they hear my voice, because if you come in the door, I’m going to say something to you. To see their expression change on them, that’s the best part for me.”
Although his distinguished voice is what he is known for among students, hollering students’ names isn’t McCray’s only task at the restaurant. He said he only calls out names when training new coworkers who seem too intimidated to speak to students with such a prominent voice.
In his role, McCray said he is in charge of supervising the kitchen, which involves helping ensure everything is being cooked correctly and to order.
McCray works Monday to Friday, so some students have been able to interact with him when they stop by for a break in between classes and have noticed his kind personality as soon as they walk through the door.
“He is an unwaveringly polite, boisterous and witty man,” Sams said. “He constantly cracks jokes on the job and I feel as though he really enjoys what he does. He is efficient and he remembers people by name which, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of customer service.”
Since Chick-fil-A is a hotspot for students on the Tampa campus during a long day of classes, homework and exams, Sams said McCray is a great person to work there and can immediately brighten a student’s day.
“Students can become incredibly stressed because of exams and the mounds of homework we have to complete,” he said. “Good food can readily remedy that stress, so a man who can deliver that food and make you smile at the same time is invaluable to the USF community.”
Freshman Haley Dittmar also said she couldn’t help but notice the positivity McCray brings to his work daily. She said his dedication to student happiness is one reason he resonates with the USF community so much.
“He feels like a friend to everyone that walks in the door and that helps with those who feel homesick or lonely at college,” Dittmar said. “With such a big community on campus, he had a gift of making it feel like a close-knit community and takes the time to get to know us.
“He always takes the time to review the orders even if there is a long line. And no matter how busy it is, he still takes time to talk to individuals. He is loud, outgoing and funny in the best way.”
Alonzo Stafford, McCray’s coworker, said McCray has personally motivated him at work, which can be rare to find in a workplace environment.
“He’s a hard working man, and he makes everyone feel very happy and welcome,” Stafford said. “[McCray] tells me about my work ethics and how I came a long way from starting doing stuff small [at Chick-fil-A] and doing a little bit of everything at work, like working on the line and working in the front with the other coworkers.”
McCray said his he implements his generally optimistic outlook on life in his everyday interactions. His opposition to negativity has allowed him to arrive at work with little worry he won’t be able to perform his tasks on a given day.
“Like I say, in order to be a leader, you’ve got to come in with a good attitude,” McCray said. “My personal life is my personal life, but I come in with nothing negative. I come in and spray some love, and I treat everyone with respect and say ‘Come on everyone, let’s make people happy.’
“I think it’s just me. It’s just in me. Like I said, there isn’t any training [I need]. As soon as I get there it kicks in.”
Aside from his work life, McCray holds his same values when spending time with his family and setting an example for his children and grandchildren, according to his wife, Harriet.
She said McCray’s connection with his family is especially strong, and his presence at home is even noticeable to their grandchildren.
“He is an even better Grand Daddy. All the grandkids call him Papa,” she said. “They break through me when they see him. They run straight past me. But they know they’ll get a good laugh [with McCray], and that they’re going to get played when he acts like a fool.”
He is a supportive husband outside of work as well, according to Harriet, as they frequently depend on one another to communicate and talk about any issues they had during their work days.
“He’s always very strong. If I’m having a bad day at work, I have to call him,” she said. “I do the same thing for him. If he gets too overwhelmed at work, he’ll take a little break and come call me and tell me he just needs my input.”
The supportiveness and welcoming nature of McCray extends even beyond their family life, Harriet said. Her coworkers know and adore McCray, and even though his visits are brief, Harriet said he makes such a large impact on them due to his immediate and warm presence.
“He does not meet a stranger. He is the same way all the time. He doesn’t even work with me, but everybody [at my work] knows him,” she said. “He’ll come up and bring me lunch, and [my coworkers] all know him. They’ll tell me ‘Charles is outside,’ and they just love him to death, because he gives that aura about himself.”
McCray’s motto at home and at work is something Harriet and their family have always held closely to them as it brings a new perspective on the decisions they make and the lives they lead, she said.
“‘The life you live is the one you chose.’ That’s his motto,” she said. “He tells all the kids that if they’re doing bad things, you choose to do bad things, so you need to change.”
McCray said the life he chooses to live right now has been full of positivity and companionship, and he is startled, yet humbled, that the people around him have taken such great notice of it.
“It amazes me, because I’ll just be working and then people will come and tell me ‘You made my day,’” he said. “It surprised me because a lot of people come back and tell me that and I’m like, ‘My pleasure.’”