Staff Profile

Staff Profile: CrossRoads Location Supervisor John Poer

John Poer: Q&A

John Poer is the location supervisor for our plant-based cafe, CrossRoads, which opened in August 2021. The Cafe came about as the result of a student suggestion (read more about that here). Some of the staff at the Cafe, including John, follow a plant-based diet. Get to know more about John and CrossRoads below!

How long have you been with Dining Services? What other Dining Services locations have you worked at prior to CrossRoads?

I started working in the UConn Cafes as a student and then a Student Supervisor for three years.  I started working full-time as a Location Supervisor in April of 2004 and 16 and a ½ years later I’m still here!  During my time with Dining Services, I have run or have helped run Chem Café, Wilbur’s Café, Co-Op Café, Lu’s Café, Bookworms, Dairy Bar, Up and Atom Café, The Beanery, Union Street Market, the Food Truck, and the commissary.

What do you love about working at CrossRoads?

Wilburs Café has become more dynamic and, now existing as CrossRoads Café, represents more than just food and a café. CrossRoads represents a positive change in culture; being health conscious and having a greater focus on the environment and sustainability.  For those reasons, I feel proud to be able to take part in CrossRoads. I thoroughly enjoy working for Dining Services and being here at CrossRoads is the icing on the cake!

What is your favorite item(s) on the menu?

There are many great options to choose from!  The three menu items I frequently go to are the kale salad with butternut squash and grains, spring vegetable soup, and Snicker Kicker iced coffee with oat milk.

For anyone unsure of trying plant-based “meat” products, what menu item would you encourage them to stop by and try?

The one item I would welcome any meat-eaters to try is the Chaugie sub. This grinder contains plant-based sausage slices along with Chao vegan cheese and peppers and onions. The plant-based sausage tastes excellent and is seasoned delectably.  Some of the students I have working for me were amazed at how much you couldn’t really taste the difference between the plant-based sausage and its meat counterpart.

Best comment or compliment you have heard about CrossRoads so far?

CrossRoads has received countless compliments from our customers, which means a whole lot to our staff.  UConn Interim President Andy Agwunobi reached out to Dining Services and complimented us on our focus on giving the students something they expressed their desire for in a plant-based café.

Why do you follow a plant-based lifestyle?

I started following a strict plant-based lifestyle almost four years ago for the health benefits associated with it.  My physical and mental health has improved because of this diet and it is something I want to maintain for the rest of my life.  A plant-based lifestyle has also raised my awareness of the positive social economic and environmental impacts it can have in our world, as well as increased awareness of how we treat animals.

What else would you like to share?

CrossRoads is a welcoming place to all, not just vegetarians or vegans. We strive to introduce and acquaint our plant-based menu with anyone willing to put their appetites in our hands. Come in and say hi, ask questions, or even make suggestions. CrossRoads is here to make a difference in the UConn community, and we couldn’t do it without our wonderful customers. Thank you all so very much!

Chef Profile: Angel Soto

Angel Soto: Q&A

With almost four decades of creating menus and serving students, you could say chef Angel Soto is a familiar and welcome face in the dining halls at UConn. After graduating from the culinary arts program at EC Goodwin Tech, Angel got his hands-on experience serving large groups through food services in the Army. In 1996 he retired from the Army with 20 years of service, four years in active duty and the remainder in the reserves. After leaving active duty he joined UConn Dining Services and also returned to EC Goodwin Tech for a few years as a chef instructor for the adult bilingual education program.

Today you can find Angel in Buckley Dining Hall whipping up omelets for students to start their day. He also currently serves as the UNITE Here Steward and Executive Board Member.

What do you love about working at UConn?

What I enjoy about working at UConn is the interaction and service we provide to our students. The greatest satisfaction for me is receiving the many thanks and compliments from students on a daily basis and for that I’m grateful!

Working at UConn has allowed me to meet many people with skills that have influenced me in many ways. With skills gained along the way, I’ve been able to continue my passion for creating menus and keeping my love for the culinary arts alive.

I have achieved many accomplishments throughout my 39 years in food service here at UConn, but the two achievements that stand out the most for me was receiving the SUBOG Employee of the Month in 1985, voted on by the students and Employee of the Year in 2011, voted by my peers.

What is your favorite thing to cook at UConn?

I enjoy cooking all types of food, but my favorite would have to be whipping up omelets at the omelet station. We provide students with many options to create their omelets and working at this station allows me to interact with the students and for me, that is so rewarding!

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I cook many meals at the home front, but believe it or not I’m not the head chef at home, my wife is!  She’s a great cook and I appreciate her taking that duty on. But when I do cook at home my family would say that their favorite is my Puerto Rican cuisine dishes. I grew up in a very large family with six brothers and four sisters. You would often find my mother in the kitchen creating Puerto Rican dishes for my siblings and me. I would say she and many of my aunts influenced me to become a chef!

Chef Profile: Kelly Haggerty

“I love coming up with new concepts, every day brings a different challenge and a new solution.”

Production Chef Kelly Haggerty takes her inspiration and passion for cooking from the backgrounds and cultures of the many different people she meets in life. Because she is a chef, the topic of food usually comes up and the traditions and stories of food that others grew up with inspire her to be creative and to put her own unique spin on it.

Kelly’s culinary background began at the Western Culinary Institute (Le Cordon Bleu) in Portland, Oregon where she obtained her associate’s degree. She then worked for five years at Todd English’s Tuscany at Mohegan Sun, a high volume fine dining restaurant, where she became the first woman master cook. She was also a pastry chef for Latitude 41 in Mystic, CT and helped the company with their sister restaurants Mystic Market West and Aspen in Old Saybrook, CT.

Arriving at UConn in 2010, Kelly started as a chef assistant at Union Street Market and within a year was promoted to chef and then production chef. In April 2019 she made the move to Whitney and Buckley dining halls as their production chef.

What’s her favorite meal to cook? Outside of UConn Kelly keeps dinners at home very simple but if she is going to a gathering or feeling creative, her go-to is rustic Italian food which usually consists of a four-course meal.

Kelly’s diverse skills as a chef have allowed her to participate in two American Culinary Federation competitions during her time at UConn. With each year there is a new food trend, so recipes are always evolving which she feels keeps on her toes.

Chef Profile: Crystal Russell

UConn’s Bakery “Not Just Desserts” produces hundreds of thousands of desserts and baked goods each year – over 90,000 just in chocolate chip cookies! Pastry Chef Crystal Russell has been with the team since 2003 creating sweet treats for the campus community.

Crystal arrived shortly after she graduated from Windham Tech’s Culinary program where she had received the Baker of the Year Award – an award that hadn’t been given out in 3 years.

Over the last 16 years she has built up her skills with hands on learning from the bakery managers. What she loves most about her job is the freedom to experiment, create and seeing her recipes on a menu. Her favorite pastry to make at UConn is Danish because there are so many options with shapes and fillings.

Although she is creating thousands of sweet pastries each year, don’t count her out of the savory game! At home she is known to make a mean crab rangoon and beef wellington!

Chef Profile: Susan Chang

Susan Chang’s love for cooking began as a child growing up in Taiwan. With no formal education, she learned everything with on-the-job training. Her grandfather was also a chef and she recalls that he always had a stern look on his face since he took his work so seriously.

Being in family-owned restaurants has been the backbone of her culinary career. In 1985 she moved with her family to the United States where she was part owner and operator of the restaurant they opened in Nebraska. She then moved to New York to work in another family-owned restaurant, eventually landing in Storrs.

In 1998, Susan and her family purchased a restaurant in downtown Storrs and opened Chang’s Garden, serving authentic Chinese food to the UConn community for many years. Although Susan and her sister have since sold the restaurant, it is still called Chang’s Garden and in operation today.

Dining Services Culinary Competition

After leaving the restaurant business, Susan started as a kitchen assistant at UConn Dining in 2010, eventually working her way up to a chef three years later. She currently works as a chef at South Dining Hall where a variety of international foods are served. For Susan, food and family have always gone together and she often brings specialty/authentic foods from home to share with staff and managers. She takes a great deal of pride in her work and food, loves her job and says the students at UConn help to keep her young!

Get to Know Chef Chang:

Favorite Quotes: “Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman — not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: The great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen — though not designed by them. Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable, and satisfying.” – Chef Anthony Bourdain

“The way you make an omelet reveals your character. – Chef Anthony Bourdain

Cooking Philosophy: I love to cook and watch students (and others) enjoy the food I make.

Cooking Secret: Using pizza dough to make scallion pancakes.

Chef Profile: Bruce Haney

Hard work and dedication are the ingredients in chef Bruce Haney’s career. In his almost 48 years as a full time chef at UConn Dining Services, he has also held eight other jobs as a chef and caterer in his spare time. If that wasn’t enough, Haney also serves as the treasurer for his union, Unite Here Local 2527T, on the Pension Committee and as co-chairman on the Retirement Plan Committee.

Shortly after receiving his associate’s degree in Culinary Arts, from the Culinary Institute of America, he joined the Army Enlisted Aide Program as part of the Quartermaster School. As an aide under the command of a Lieutenant General he was responsible for purchasing, menu planning, food preparation and serving for all meals, dinner parties and special functions. During his time in the Army he rose to the rank of sergeant and received the Commendation Medal and Good Conduct Medal.

After he was discharged, Bruce began his career at UConn in 1972 as a chef and dining hall manager. During his 31 years in this role he would also bring his talents as an executive chef to numerous venues in the area:

Owner/Executive Chef – Thistles A Caterer, Inc (Pautipaug Country Club), Baltic, CT
Perry’s Restaurant, Willimantic, CT
Frank Davis Resort, Moodus, CT
Pasquaney Inn, Bridgewater, NH
Willimantic Motor Inn, CT

From 1969-1985 he also took on a third job of catering private parties, weddings and banquets for 25-350 people.

In 2003, Bruce received the Dining Services Employee of the Year Award and  became a kosher chef at Gelfenbien Commons Dining Hall. Gelfenbien is the only dining hall on campus that offers a kosher kitchen that is certified by the Kashrut Commission of Greater Hartford. All kosher dishes are prepared under the close supervision of our resident Mashgiachs.

Bruce has been married for 47 years and makes his home in South Windham, CT. He has three children, and four grandchildren.

“Since high school I have enjoyed working in food service, with the changing trends, and working at UConn, especially given the diversity of the students. I have especially enjoyed the opportunity to venture into new and varied menus and ethnic foods.”


Chef Profile: Sean Hawkins

I love cooking for the creativity, taking simple ingredients and enhancing their flavors to create a new dish.

Connections to UConn for Chef Sean Hawkins have truly come full circle.

Growing up in Mansfield, Hawkins attended Windham Tech, during which he took on internships at UConn’s South Dining Hall and Union Street Market. After graduating from Windham Tech, he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America and completed an internship at Le Cellier Steakhouse, one of Disney World’s most-booked restaurants. After receiving his Associate of Occupational Studies in Culinary Arts in 2009 he went on to work at country clubs in Florida and Connecticut.

Sean’s first sous-chef position brought him to the Spa at Norwich Inn, named “Best Destination Spa in New England” by Yankee Magazine. He continued his passion for cooking locally, refining his skills at places like Dog Lane Café, The Whelk, a farm-to-table restaurant in Westport, and Fenton River Grill in Mansfield.

Sean returned to UConn in November 2018 and has worked as a chef at Putnam Dining Hall, Northwest Dining Hall, and the campus restaurant, Bistro On Union Street, where he helped to create the menu for Connecticut Farm-to-Chef Week featuring locally sourced ingredients.


Chef Profile: Chef Sean