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Debate Week's Feeding Frenzy

Catering operations kept thousands of journalists on campus fueled up this week.

Campus News  |  Oct 21, 2016  |  By Diane Russell
Table with cupcakes and people

(R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Editor's Note: 

We're so proud of the hundreds of UNLV employees and students who made the Presidential Debate a success. Over the next week, our Debate Dispatches series will highlight some who worked behind the scenes. 

It turns out America’s two major political parties do have something in common — a taste for Diet Coke.

Staffs of both campaigns ordered from UNLV’s catering operation at the Thomas & Mack Center while they prepared for Oct. 19th's final 2016 presidential debate.

“They like Diet Coke — both of them,” Cheryl Sgovio said the day before the event in reference to both campaigns. “And bottled water and coffee,” she added after a pause. She is director of catering and convention sales for the T&M, Cox Pavilion, and Sam Boyd Stadium.

How much coffee? “Much of our coffee service is an all-day service, so I don’t really have a number. Someone will order 8, 12, or 16 hours of service (for their group), and we just keep refilling,” she said. “They actually commented that our coffee was delicious.”

After the debate, Tony Allen, UNLV's director of media relations, added, "I can validate the Diet Coke comment. Before and after the debate in the (media center's) Beer Garden, all the tubs of Coke/Pepsi/Sprite/Sierra Mist were full. No Diet Coke left."

Beginning the Thursday before the debate, groups stationed at the Thomas & Mack began ordering lunch and dinner buffets with hot food for their employees. For smaller organizations whose employers don’t provide meals, catering created the Debate Café onsite so people didn’t have to pass back and forth through security.

Benjamin Ray checks the soda stock in the media filing center at the Thomas & Mack on Debate DaySgovio said catering added some menu items it doesn’t always offer such as hot breakfast sandwiches and protein boxes. Most deliveries were made to members of the media at their individual “headquarters” in the T&M parking lot or in the media center. Orders have been for as many as 75 people and for as few as three.

And it was a similar story for her counterparts in UNLV Dining, which services the rest of the campus. UNLV Dining extended its hours of operation at some venues, and offered American cuisine items such as Nathan's hot dogs and macaroni and cheese bites on its menus and baked debate-themed deserts for the many events leading up to Debate Day.   

On Monday, a catering employee made the rounds making sure coffee was free-flowing in meeting rooms that were hosting debate-related events all around campus. "The great thing I'm seeing is the diversity on this campus," said the employee, who has worked at private college campuses in other states. "I'm glad the world is going to see that. It is what makes UNLV different."

Just like the international journalists they’re serving, some catering employees at the T&M have been working overnight to accommodate 3 a.m. food deliveries. T&M catering staff worked until 5 p.m. Thursday, when the last of the media was expected to wrap up their post-debate productions.

Sgovio, who celebrated her 15th UNLV work anniversary Saturday (on the job, of course), said there really is no comparison between the runup to the debate and other events at the T&M. She's been working 12 to 14 hours a day since Oct. 10 without a day off.

“This has been busier and more challenging than most of our weeks. So many orders have come in at the last minute. I was receiving orders until 8 last night (Monday) for today. Normally we require orders to be in a week in advance.

Does she feel as if she is involved in an historic event?

Sgovio said she knows it is historic, but that at the moment all she can do is concentrate on the task at hand.

“I think afterward when I have more time to reflect on it, I will feel it more. Right now I am very in the moment.”