Marketplace on Neil is located at one of the southernmost parts of campus, on the corner of Neil and West 10th avenues. Credit: Nicholas Youngblood | Arts & Life Editor

My tryst with the Marketplace on Neil started long before I sat down to write this story.

I first entered the spot — which won best campus dining spot with more than 40 percent of the votes and is located at one of the southernmost parts of campus, on the corner of Neil and West 10th avenues — as a first-year in January 2018, about five months into my time both at Ohio State and in the United States.

I walked in not to eat, but interview for a job. A moment quite significant to me, as it would be the first job I ever had. Coming from India, I was not in the practice of having jobs over the summer or through high school, so the entire thing was pretty new to me.

It took me less than a day at the new job to realize that I had to get out of my comfort zone — and fast. I was not the greatest at social interactions, but that went out the window quickly as I came to understand that sticking to what I knew and felt comfortable doing was not going to fly in the fast-paced environment of a serving and cooking job.

I let go of my inhibitions, and every day became easier than the previous one, giving me the opportunity to grow as a person.

The me who left Marketplace in April 2019 was very different than who joined in January 2018. Throughout the course of five semesters, the place taught me to be confident, social, a better leader and open to new opportunities. It taught me how to work with a team, talk to new people and, most importantly, be responsible for my own actions. 

It was during those five semesters that I further developed my passion for cooking. Sure, I liked food and enjoyed watching people cook on TV long before coming to the U.S., but actually getting the opportunity to work in a kitchen, even if at a campus dining location, gave me the push I never knew I wanted or needed.

When I think of Marketplace, I think of the people — not only those with whom I worked but those whom I served. And that, to me, is its best quality.

After working there for as long as I did, you start seeing some familiar faces. Every interaction with different patrons was an opportunity to put a smile on their face and make their day a little better, from something as small as complimenting their tattoos or hair to remembering their names and even complete orders at times.

As for the people I did work with, some started as mere co-workers but turned into some of the closest friends I have had on campus. They made the shifts go by with such ease. Outside of work, with parties and movie, bowling, karaoke and trivia nights, they slowly became like a second family to me, and I would not have it any other way.

I experienced almost every kind of day at Marketplace. I spent the first and last days of a semester there, I have been there on weekends when everyone wanted to use up their swipes, and I have been there on game days when barely anyone came in. Sometimes I had at least 15 pizzas in the oven; other days, the oven was empty. I was working back in 2017 when Ohio State came back in the fourth quarter against Penn State to win, listening to it on the radio in the back kitchen. I am still upset I missed it.

For most people, a campus job is just that — a job. But Marketplace was so much more than that for me. It was my first job ever. I was in a new country by myself, without many friends. The job gave me confidence, experience  and more importantly, a sense of belonging.

I always thought I would have time to go back to the place where it all began once more before I graduated — have one last pizza that I knew all too well how to make, or maybe a sandwich, with which I experimented the most. Maybe I would just talk to the people still working there. With the way things are progressing, it seems highly unlikely. So for now, this story will have to do.