Dawn ’til Dusk: Cafe Manager Dawn Garrett-Martin Gives South her all


Dawn Garrett-Martin works hard to keep the cafeteria running. She’s been in working for 26 years

Avani Prabhu, News Editor

From sunup to sundown, a cafeteria manager works tirelessly to feed the staff and students of South Forsyth High School. That manager’s name is Dawn Garrett-Martin. She leads a group of 10 staff members who prepare and serve almost 800 meals a day. The amount of teamwork and efficiency needed to complete this daily task is monumental, and it’s all up to Garrett-Martin and her team. She is a crucial part of the school.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we interviewed Garrett-Martin about what it takes to manage South’s cafeteria, some of her favorite memories, and her personal inspiration for perseverance and leadership.

What does the average day look like for you from sunup to sundown? 

Well, I’m here [between] 5:30 [and] 6 a.m., until about 3:30 p.m., so I’m working for that long. And then most days, I go home, and, you know, do home things. But on the other days, I stay and sell tickets for ball games. So some days I’m here till 7:30 p.m., and then I go home and spend time with my guy, and cook dinner at home like at other homes. 

Have you always worked in this profession? What made you pick this for your career?

Yes, I’ve been in this profession now for 26 years. The main reason I started was I had the same schedule as my children, because they had just started school. I quickly within six months moved into management, and I’ve been a manager in every sense. It’s just that I enjoy serving. 

What’s your favorite part of this job? 

Meeting the students and just seeing them as they grow over the years. Through the four years that they’re here, I see them as they grow. I learn what they’re doing and hopefully inspire them to learn how to cook at home. You know, because we have done that. I’ve done some tours before of the kitchen and what not. So it’s just the students, basically.

What’s something you do that many students don’t realize?

They probably don’t realize how much math is involved in cooking. I didn’t realize it myself until I got the job, but math is a very big part of cooking and baking. That’s just kind of one of those a-ha moments, and just shows how much hard work it really is. I mean, there’s a lot involved in managing 10 other people under me, and all the paperwork that goes along with it!

What’s the funniest memory you have from South?

Oh, gosh, there’s been many. But one time, we were cleaning and water got in an electrical outlet and blew the breaker. The whole cafeteria and kitchen was without power, and we were still in the middle of the school day. We still had two lunches to go. Oops. So yeah, that was really funny; we could have [gotten] hurt, but it really was funny. Some of the kids come in, tell us things, but being back here in the kitchen is probably the best. There was another funny moment when this machine I’m fixing to work with, I put some product in there, and I forgot to put a gasket in it. So when I mashed the button to start, I had barbecue sauce all over the wall. All over me! That was great.

What is your proudest moment from working at South?

Well I would have to say just the longevity of being here. I got an award for 25 years of service, and in 2020, I received the Staff Member of the Month Award for the whole county, for food and nutrition. So just being here at South, it’s a great place to work.

What motivates You?

What motivates me best is just to try and do the best I can and to prove that I can do it to myself more than anything. I hope my children will be proud of me, and my family, but most of all, I try to encourage my staff and be a true leader, not just being a micromanager, but being a teaching manager.

Who is your inspiration?

My inspiration in the job was our former director, Susan Woods. She has passed away now, but she was a great inspiration. She taught me a lot in the years that she was here before she passed away. Miss Wilson has also taught me a lot about how to be a leader, too. I look up to them both.

How have you handled challenges in life? 

I’ve had a lot of challenges in life, and even recently, but I just tried to keep moving forward and not let it get in. When I come in in the mornings, I leave it at the door, come inside, and do my job. It’s not always that easy, but that’s how I handle it until something happens. We just have to move on and not let it get to you.

Do you have any words of encouragement for women going into the culinary field? 

Do what you love. If that’s what you’re inspired to do, you make it happen! Because you’re all capable of doing whatever you set your mind to. Culinary is typically seen as a woman’s environment but some excel, and some don’t. But if that’s what you’re passionate about, you should go for it. You know, just follow your dreams. Because no matter how big or how small, it’s what’s inside you that matters. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of your profession or whatnot. You know, I’m very proud of my profession. It’s not glamorous by any means, but to me, it matters.