Vive la Mac n Cheese

        During my five-year tour as a part-time employee at Hershey’s Chocolate World, I have experienced an endless multitude of frustrations that have made me want to slam my head into a wall. The days are long, the pay mediocre, and the customers insanely rude, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing I loathe more about that place than the phrase, “Have a Sweet Day!” I haven’t worked a shift in months, but even now, just writing about it sows seeds of annoyance within my chest. To the outsider, the phrase seems innocent enough, and some might even find it amusing because, get it? Chocolate is sweet! But any soul who’s labored part-time in the chocolate trenches will tell you that this supposedly innocuous combination of words is basically the Milton Hershey version of the middle finger. I couldn’t tell you when or how the comment took on such a subverted meaning, but the only people who ever use this phrase are entitled, middle aged white men, and when they do, it inevitably comes off as rude and degrading. 

        Every person who works at a place like Hershey’s could tell you a number of similar stories about the woes and annoyances of working the public. In all honesty, that’s just what comes with the job, and everyone develops their own method of coping. However, what employees in these large-scale retail/customer service settings typically won’t tell you is how annoying the companies themselves are, and specifically, how cheap upper-level management is. To these corporate schmucks, finding ways to save money is practically an art, and they will do ridiculous things to conserve mere fractions of a penny. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “That doesn’t sound so bad! Thrift is an important value for any business!’ And while thrift certainly is a virtue, these companies usually aren’t trying to save money because it’s necessary to keep operations going. In reality, I don’t think I could tell you why they exercise such intense frugality at all, because every day, they make hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit, almost all of which is poured directly into their already well-lined coffers. 

        This is especially true of Hershey’s Chocolate World, as each day, the building (which is only one part of a massive international corporation, so one can just imagine how much total revenue they are constantly collecting from every corner of the world) makes approximately $250k-500k in profit. The amount of money that visitors spend there is disgusting, and yet, management is constantly telling its masses of hourly employees that their budget is shrinking. This is not an exaggeration, in fact, I just recently received an email saying that there will be no turkey dinner provided for those sad souls who will be working on Thanksgiving (because yes, Chocolate World is open on Thanksgiving and most employees are expected to work a full eight-hour shift) due to “increased budget constraints.” This might appease some employees, but I’ve seen the profits/losses sheets for this summer, and in the first eight months of the year, Chocolate World made slightly over thirty-six million dollars. If you ask me, there’s enough wiggle room in there to give the people a few pieces of turkey and some mashed potatoes, but this is just one example of many absurd cut-backs I personally have experienced. Normally, these changes don’t bother me as they result in nothing more than a minor annoyance, but every person has a breaking point, and folks, I hit mine when they took away the mac n cheese from the employee cookouts. 

        At Chocolate World, employee cookouts are practically sacred. Held just a handful of times throughout the summer, they are open to all Hershey Company employees (even the suits who work in the cushy corporate offices downtown) and are HIGHLY anticipated. They feature an indulgent buffet of hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, pork BBQ, ribs, every condiment and topping you can think of, potato salad, macaroni salad, cakes, cookies, and a variety of ice cream, all of which is totally payed for by the company. Admittedly, most company events are kind of lame, but cookouts are a blast. All of us, from the newest hourly employee to the highest corporate executive, play yard games like corn hole, take turns manning the grill, and play fetch with King (who is a German Shepard that was rescued by my department manager and basically serves as the company mascot). However, the best and most anticipated part of these cookouts is undoubtedly the mac n cheese. 

        Ever since I can remember, I have had an unhealthy obsession with mac n cheese. Even now, I probably eat far of it more than any self-respecting adult should, so trust me when I say that the mac n cheese at our employee cookouts was absolutely mind-blowing. The ratio between the milk and the cheese was perfect, being appropriately gooey without becoming runny, and the surface was always a seared into beautiful golden-brown crust of breadcrumbs that made your mouth water with anticipation. Some people even came into work on their day off to get a taste of it, because really, it was that good. Why anyone would ever think it a good idea to take away this venerated dish without explanation is beyond me, and yet, this is exactly what transpired. One day, the mac n cheese simply disappeared from the cookout buffet line, and immediately, there was unrest among the people. While upset, the initial consensus was that this was simply a fluke. Someone had probably forgotten to order the right ingredients or something, and so we remained hopeful that the mac n cheese would soon be reinstated. 

        As you might have already surmised, this never happened. Several cookouts came and went, but the mac n cheese never returned, and slowly, people became more and more agitated. Looking back now, it seems ridiculous to get upset over something so small, but in the moment, we felt like this was the biggest injustice that had ever been committed against the working class. Some days, especially during the height of the summer season, it was absolutely awful to be an employee at Chocolate World. Tourists really are the meanest people you’ll ever meet, and after a bad week or a stressful shift day of dealing with guests who made you want to scream, it was nice to sit down and have some free food as a reward for all the sanity and patience you had scarified. So how dare someone who probably didn’t even know what it was like to be a foot soldier in the chocolate army take away our mac n cheese! I personally took the whole thing very hard, and after a brief period of complaining to anyone who would listen, I decided to actually do something to make change happen.

        Now, it is important to understand that I am a naturally stubborn person, a characteristic which probably stems from my being an only child and hating when I don’t get my way. I do not like being told “No,” and I will not stop pushing until my opponent breaks or I achieve my desired result. Sometimes this stubbornness is a vice, but in the case of the missing mac n cheese, it most certainly became my greatest virtue. I was owed that mac n cheese, and I would stop at nothing to get it back. My first object was to determine the cause of the disappearance, and then, to remedy the situation as quickly and covertly as possible. Simple enough, right? 

        Well, it actually took much longer than I initially anticipated to get one of the upper-level corporate managers to admit why the mac n cheese had been taken away. My primary target was a manager named Josh Groff. To this day, I’m still not exactly sure how high up Josh is in the company, (this may seem strange, but is actually quite common at Hershey’s. No one ever really knows how high up anyone else is, so it is very important to watch what you say at all times!) but he does drive a Tesla, and someone once told me that he reports directly to the Vice President, so I figured he must be pretty important. Despite the fact that my official rank at this point was only that of a lowly Area Coordinator (I was basically a glorified assistant to the assistant manager), Josh and I had actually become pretty good friends. We had a mutually beneficial relationship that was based off of sharing tidbits of gossip, so I figured he would be the best person from which to slowly wean information. Surprisingly, even he didn’t know where the mac n cheese had gone at first, but after much prompting and needling to “Please find out Josh. I need to know, and the people are demanding answers!”  he reached out to a few contacts and reported back to me that the mac n cheese had been eliminated due to the “implementation of a new, leaner budget for employee cookouts.” When I asked Josh if he thought there was anything he could do to help rectify the situation, he just looked at me with a sad, slightly amused look, and shook his head.  

        Needless to say, I. Was. Pissed. How dare they. For budgetary reasons? Are you kidding me? With all the money that place was making? This was ridiculous! This was criminal! I was so angry, I didn’t even know where to direct my anger! Should I write a strongly worded letter? Should I publish an expose? Should I start a revolution? How could this even happen! My rage was further inflamed by the fact that during this time, I was working in the parking department, meaning I was stuck for hours in a tiny parking booth with no one to talk to but a small group of college boys. During the agonizingly slow hours of the afternoon when the sun was so hot that traffic practically ground to a halt, we had nothing better to do but endlessly complain and rile each other up about the unfairness of the situation. Finally, after a long cool-down period and a good deal of coordination with other disgruntled members of the parking team, I decided that my best course of action would be to flood the employee suggestion box (which was really more like a suggestion iPad) with constant requests to return cookouts to their former glory by reinstating the much-adored dish of mac n cheese. I surmised that if I simply annoyed management enough, eventually, they would cave in and give me what I wanted. Surprisingly, this strategy actually ended up working quite well, though things did escalate far beyond what I had originally intended.  

        Initially, I thought I would be the only one undertaking this ambitious endeavor. While most employees were indeed very upset about the disappearance of their mac n cheese, in cases like this, few people are usually able to move beyond the stage of being angry or annoyed and begin to work towards affecting some sort of change. So I set off on my lonely mission; one woman standing up for justice against the monster of corporate greed, and for a while, nothing happened. I was leaving two or three messages in the suggestion box every day, but no one was answering. Not knowing what else to do, I began to vent my mounting frustrations to my co-workers, and this turned out to be the catalyst for something remarkable. I’ve been at Hershey’s for just over five years now, and during this time I’ve worked in various different departments all over the building, which meant that when the time came, I was able to reach out to long-list of friendly co-workers who I knew would come to my aid. Sure enough, one by one, they joined me as I continued to bombard the suggestion box with demands for the return of the mac n cheese, and before long, a full-fledged grassroots movement had blossomed into maturity. People from every department got involved: retail, food service, attractions, utilities, parking, everyone was standing up to say: We want our mac n cheese! We will no longer be silent and complacent in the face of injustice!

        Of course, the whole thing seems ridiculous and over-dramatic now, but I was 17, and part of being young is being ridiculous, so I threw myself into my cause. So what if was throwing a fit over a side dish at a cookout? During the height of our campaign, we were the revolutionaries of our age! We were making cookouts great again! We were the proletariat, rising up against our oppressors and taking back what was ours! Chocolate workers of the world, Unite! Vive la révolution! Vive la mac n cheese! It was hilarious and insane, dramatic and childish, but the best part was that it worked. Within days, a company-wide email was sent out that said: “Due to popular demand, the Employee Satisfaction Team is happy to announce that Employee Cookouts will once again feature mac n cheese. We have heard your voices.” 

And just like that, it was over. We won.

        The whole thing felt surreal. I guess part of me had been expecting that nothing would ever come of it, because that’s usually what happens when little people stand up to “the man.” The little people almost never get their mac n cheese, they almost never win, but this time, we did. Maybe it was just a plate of mac n cheese, but I personally think the whole ordeal was immensely important. Who cares if someone else thinks your cause is stupid? No change will ever come if people never find the courage or motivation to say, “No, this is wrong. This is unfair, and I won’t take it anymore.” Now, not only can I truthfully say that I was the leader of a mac n cheese revolution (which, c’mon, is super cool), but I also know how to advocate for myself in the workplace. People still tell me to “Have a Sweet Day!” and it still makes my insides curl with rage every time, but at least for me, knowing my saint-like patience will be rewarded with a heaping serving of mac n cheese makes it all seem just a bit more bearable. Not much, but enough, and really, that’s all that matters.

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Currently a sophomore at Villanova University. Loves dogs, Mac n Cheese, and dusty corners of libraries.