Inside the Colorado Mesa University cafeteria, hundreds of students line up during dinner to get their meal for the night. One of the workers there to greet them is Joe Ortiz, a man who has always had a knack for service.
Whether it was taking care of his brothers and sisters in his youth, or trying his best to squeeze that fourth taco into a hungry student’s tiny foam to-go box, Ortiz thrives at taking care of his customers.
“The hospitality industry is what I’m all about,” Ortiz said. “I’m all about customer service.”
Ortiz spent his childhood in California, born in Coachella and alternating between there and Los Angeles to see his mother and father. In his mother’s home, he was the oldest of eight, meaning it was up to him to lend a helping hand to the rest of his family.
“I grew up quick. I had to help with homework, cooking, cleaning, all of that stuff,” Ortiz said.
Once he turned 18, Ortiz left for Riverside, where he roomed with his aunt before renting a room at his grandparent’s house, who taught him a lesson that stuck with him forever.
“My grandfather was all about teaching us the ways of the world,” Ortiz said. “Nothing is going to be handed to you. You need to pay for everything as you go and that means if you’re over 18 you’re going to pay your way. If you’re going to stay here you’re going to pay. So I did.”
It was during his Riverside days that Ortiz first started in the customer service business. For years, he worked as a bartender and server, often holding two jobs. Even today, Ortiz spends his days alternating between two different occupations. Before clocking in and serving the students at CMU, he serves the elderly and people with disabilities as a caregiver.
“I love my job I really do,” Ortiz said. “I work in both spectrums of service. I go there and then at 2:30 I come here and work until nine o’clock and I serve the college students.”
Even with the large work schedule, Ortiz still keeps a smile on his face and is ready to provide quality food and customer satisfaction wherever he works.
“There are days I get burned out on both jobs, days I’m not feeling good or I’m just tired,” Ortiz said. “But I try not to take that on any of my clients or any of the students. I try to keep an upbeat personality and stay positive. I try to smile and ask you how your day is going. And if I know your name it’s even better.”
Knowing names is a specialty for Ortiz, who has been told he knows about 60 percent of the student names that come in during his shift of around 1,250 hungry Mavs. Thanks to his talent, Ortiz is a mini celebrity in Grand Junction with some of the students.
“When I go out and about in the city and in town at a restaurant, gas station or movie theater I always see people from campus,” Ortiz said. “It’s pretty cool when you get recognized out in public.”
Ortiz also offers a sense of welcome to new and old Mavericks alike.
“I want them to feel that this is a welcoming environment,” Ortiz said. “If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. Someone told me that years and years ago. And at first, I thought that was ridiculous. But now, later in life, I was like ‘that was so on point’.”
When he isn’t being an outstanding workingman, Ortiz enjoys spending time with his family, including his nieces and nephews. It should come to no surprise Ortiz also enjoys feeding his loved ones. Not only does he grill, but he enjoys baking, getting many requests for his pastries, especially one in particular.
“My Amaretto Pineapple Upsidedown Cake,” Ortiz said. “I get a lot of requests for that. And it’s probably tied with my Strawberry Delight, which is a white cake with strawberry chunks in it. And then strawberries sliced with strawberry pudding with strawberries layered across it. Then another layer of that and cool whip frosting with little strawberries all over the top.”
Anytime Ortiz engages in conversation, he attempts to make a connection with a student, helping them feel better about a long day of classes or tests, or checking up with an athlete after a big game. With all the conversations he’s had, the man from Coachella has one piece of advice to the CMU students he wanted to share.
“I always tell the students take advantage of whatever opportunities you have, and if you have a chance in your lifetime to do something, do it. Don’t wait until next year or when I retire. Because that day may never come, you never know. Life is precious, and it’s a gift. You need to take advantage of whatever opportunities come to you,” Ortiz said.
Next time a student has a bad day or needs just that one extra sandwich to eat for dinner, Joe Ortiz is the man to go to. He wants to brighten your day. And if students want, they can ask him a question. He certainly won’t think it’s stupid, being the caretaker that he is.