It’s no secret that Virginia Tech’s Dining Services is top-notch.
What the rankings fail to cover, though, are the crowd favorites — the meals students go back for time after time, the sandwiches that send alumni back to the dining centers when they return to Blacksburg, and the secret menu items passed down for generations.
The most notable and beloved dish is undoubtedly Owens Food Court’s chicken parmesan. Served out of Lotsa Pasta, and the dish is Dining Services’ highest-selling item.
Deep-fried to perfection, a breaded chicken breast is buried beneath creamy, melted provolone cheese and sits on a bed of noodles. Covered with marinara sauce, grated parmesan, and chopped parsley, Owens’ chicken parmesan is paired with a soft and garlicky breadstick.
Is your mouth watering, or is it just us?
This delicacy is served on alternating Wednesdays and Fridays, and, after one-too-many missed “Chicken Parm Days” (CPDs), one fraternity took action. Within the structure of Phi Sigma Kappa, a new executive position was formed.
The current Chicken Parm Chair (known to us as Chicken Parm Guy or CPG) is Michael Hanson of Bristow, Virginia, a senior majoring in applied economic management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In his role, Hanson's duty is notifying his brothers via Facebook prior to lunchtime that it's Chicken Parm Day. Former CPGs simply posted “CPD” on these days, but Hanson knew that more could be done.
“I messed up in the beginning of the year,” said Hanson. “People were saying, ‘Dude. Do your job.’ So I took one of my fraternity brother’s pictures from Facebook, found a Google image of chicken parm, and photoshopped his face onto it. I don’t know. It was weird. But then I just decided to post something weird again, and people started to love it.”
Enter: memes. And witty videos. And Photoshopped images. And more.
“I just kind of always try to challenge myself to be creative and think of new things,” said Hanson. “It’s fun to have a position in the fraternity that isn’t serious, but is respected.”
About a month ago, Hanson sat in his fraternity house, pondering how to announce the following day’s CPD. One of his brothers, Patrick Lawrence, joked about how funny it would be if Hanson actually served the dish one day.
That was all Hanson needed to launch into action. He sent a quick email to Ted Faulkner, director of Dining Services, and, within 10 minutes, Hanson’s phone rang.
It was Faulkner — he was in.
On April 21, Hanson will don his newly acquired Owens Food Court uniform, a pair of latex gloves, and a cheerful, customer service smile, as he fulfills his dreams of serving chicken parmesan to the Hokie community for both lunch and dinner.
Falling at the start of Spring Family Weekend, Dining Services hopes to surpass the existing single-day record of 2,360 plates served; the goal is 2,500 servings.
“It is wonderful to see the positive impact and role that Dining Services can play in the student experience,” said Faulkner. “Owens’ chicken parmesan has had a devoted and almost incomprehensible following by the student body over the past few years. It is amazing to witness the effect this one dish has in bringing together the campus to enjoy a meal engage in great conversation, and be in community with one another.”
Hanson has passed all food safety testing, and he plans to attend a Dining Services’ employee training April 13. Following his completion of this preparation, he’ll be ready to serve on April 21, soon to be known officially as Chicken Parm Day.
There’s more to CPG than an obsession with an Italian dish, though. His involvement with his fraternity has marked his Virginia Tech experience. Though memorable, chicken parm notifications are the least of Phi Sigma Kappa’s drives.
Through a variety of fundraising events, the fraternity serves as one of the largest contributors to the New River Valley chapter of Special Olympics. This year, they’ve raised more than $30,000 for the region, and they’re hoping to hit an additional $10,000 mark on their current philanthropic campaign.
Hanson’s favorite quote is, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are meant for.” He lives his life by this motto, and he wants to encourage others to do the same.
“Take risks and try new things always,” said Hanson. “I found so many things that I like and don’t like simply by trying them and stepping out of my comfort zone. The best example of this would be exactly what I’m doing now. I came up with this absolutely crazy idea to serve chicken parm, emailed Dining Services because ‘Why not? Who knows what will happen!’ and here I am.”
Written by Holly Paulette