Terri Knudtson Interview




Terri Knudtson is the catering director for Blugold Dining. Knudtson discusses her life and career and catering for the Viennese Ball, from changes to the Ball and challenges in catering for such a large event. Additionally, Knudtson reminisces on working with Ada Bors and Knudtson’s own impact on the Viennese Ball.


Interviewers Tiana Marthaler and Zach Slinger


April 17, 2019


ZS: Can I get you to state your name for the record before we begin the interview?

TK: Terri Knudtson.

ZS: Alright and Terri, where were you born?

TK: I was born in Racine Wisconsin

ZS: We’re gonna start with just some more basic background information, did you think for catering purposes did you get that influence from your family and your growing up, or was that more of your personal path that you chose?

TK: Well, It actually started out as a... come on campus here for a job and it ended up in
catering and the thought was that I was going to have all of the summers off. Well, after 30years later I still have not had a summer off. So, which then I got hired for catering and so I was a catering wait staff for 6 years then I was offered this position as catering director, or, catering manager, then lead up to director. So, that’s where I’ve been is in catering all these years.

ZS: Awesome, yeah. So, did your upbringing have an impact on that at all, or did you see food and catering as important before your position here?

TK: No, not really. I had, before I’d come here I had food service experience at the Holiday Inn when I first graduated from high school. That’s where I started, was the Holiday Inn there and just moved up from housekeeping to the front office, or, dining room area, so. I love people, so.

ZS: That’s good. It’s probably important in that, yeah. Alright, so education-wise, what education did you receive or where’d you go to school?

TK: Just high school. Graduate.

ZS: Alright, awesome. Let’s see, lots of these are about what drew you to catering, I guess we already answered that. So, other than catering, have you been in another career path at all in between outside of the university, or has it just been food service?

TK: Well, it’s been in food service, but i did back in 1996/97 I had actually went to, I live in Eleva. So, their school district was looking for a new food service. So, I there went down there and did that, and here for a year and so that was basically just the same thing I do here is just doing for the students. Instead of the catering aspect of it.

ZS: Makes sense, cool. As far as your adult life, do you want to tell us a little bit about your family, husband, kids, anything like that?

TK: We have been married for 45 years as of April 6th and we have three children and two boys and a girl. We’ve got four grandkids, there all around us here. So, we spend as much time as I can give them with this working here. With the hours that I put in.

ZS: Alright, is your family similar to you in terms of enjoying food and food catering or is it you all have different interests?

TK: We all have different interest. Yup, all different interests.

ZS: Do you have any other family traditions as far as food goes. Like yearly that you help out on personally or, anything you can think of?

TK: Yeah, we do. I mean every holiday we get together with my whole family. Which is about 50 of us that get together for all the main holidays and we rotate houses and go to different places and we camp together and all that, so. Very family orientated.

ZS: So I think that does it as far as just the background information on you, so we’re gonna get to obviously the important part, the Viennese Ball, if you wanna just give like your first impression on it, or when you first heard about it?

TK: Well the first year that I was here, I was in catering and wait staff and I was actually put on the torte tables and everything and back then it was in the Old Davies and we had two buffets, two torte tables, one at each end of the building and so first year was like this is CRAZY. Trying to get tortes through the crowded halls and that and you’re trying to carry two tortes from one cuz somebody had requested a different kind or whatever and back then they were bring their tortes in, people were making their own tortes and they would get a ticket to the ball if they made a torte and brought it in. So, they would then have specific times they would want them out and what kinds and which torte area they wanted them in. When they all started coming in then id have to sort them out and make sure they got to the right torte table and all that and I guess I’d sometimes one didn’t make it to the right one you know and that so, I’d have to run down to the other one. So, it was to get through the crowded halls was it was like, nope, they weren’t moving and those tortes are HEAVY. It was quite the experience I mean with the first
Viennese Ball. I wasn’t here that long, maybe six months and it was like, whoa, but it was fun. It was kinda spectacular the first year.

ZS: That’s awesome, glad you liked it. And that was then, in the Old Davies hall, right? So how was that kind of different from the hall now or, just smaller in size, or different feel?

TK: No, it was actually the same up until last year. We had in this building we have the one up on second floor here, over here, and the other one is in the main soccer area, which is down in the marketplace. So, we still have the two. This year was the first one that we eliminated the second floor one. It wasn’t that busy up there, it was kinda tucked away. So, really not a whole lot of people saw it back there. So, we basically combined it to put it all in one spot which worked out, I think, really good this year.

ZS: Cool. Yeah it’s cool that you got kinda to see like the transition from the old Davies to the new Davies center, I think too. When, so we talked about, I guess, your first experience with it, but when was that? Do you know how long you’ve been working with the Viennese Ball?

TK: 30 years. Yup, I’m 30 in.

ZS: That’s amazing.

TK: Yeah, so lots of stories to tell.

ZS: So, then, was that just kind of like a job requirement, or did you kind of volunteer
yourself to be more involved with the Viennese Ball in that sense?

TK: No, that’s pretty much a job requirement.

ZS: A job requirement, okay.

TK: And for years up until the last, probably four years I had basically control of everything: doing the menus, doing the tastings and the productions and the scheduling and everything. So, within the last four years now I've been relieved of some of those. So, that’s okay with me!

ZS: That’s a good idea, yeah. So you have a little bit of that weight off your shoulders. Do you wanna list, or just talk about any of the changes that you’ve seen take place over the Viennese Ball since you started working on it? Or have there been any major changes?

TK: I guess some major changes were when we, when I first started here, Susan Glosser (?) would come in with a recipe for maybe two to four people and then she would want the food service to extend it for 250. So, the catering director at the time, they would have to have probably 4-5 different tastings because it’s almost impossible to get a recipe of two to four. So they would have to try it again, over and over. I actually got it to go over the position we were down to the first year where just one tasting and from that point then basically they just trusted us to do what we did. So, we didn’t have to do any more tastings with the committee and then up until three years ago we, our client at the time said that we didn’t fill the need for the tasting. So, for three years now we haven’t done the tasting. So, which that was kinda one of the major changes. To not have to do that anymore. And that changed too because the area with the marketplace too with the different areas we’ve got food in all of those different areas. In the old building we would just one line, serving line we would just set the food out there. Now, it’s all over. And added new things. So, the Umarfisch and the Doctor Falafels was something new for
this new building. We just kind of gave them the names that had gone on, did some searching out there to come up with some new menu ideas and everything so. That’s how they got it and then kinda looked at how to decorate and some of that, like Kathy Dressler what the theme was. Doctor Falafel sign so. So, yeah, it’s actually been fun doing new things, switching them off. At just the differences in food, the first couple of years here i didn’t realize that there were a lot of vegetarians and vegans out there that were here for food. So, that how we then switched Doctor Falafel over was to more their liking. So, over the last two years we’ve picked up business. It was just, like, really busy, so. That’s a good thing. And every year we try something different in the Umarfisch, which is the Mongolian Grill during the normal. Different fish, different things that
they like and that was things i picked up from the Umarfisch market. Over in Vienna they had some ideas, so.

ZS: So, have you been to Vienna then?

TK: No, I haven't. I would like to go, but I don't know about if I'm going to see that or not, but.

ZS: You got the idea from their traditions. That’s awesome. I guess for the Viennese ball is there specific things that stand out to you, or that like, differentiates it from other dances that happen across the US that you noticed? ‘Cause it is, I think, like the biggest Viennese Ball outside of Vienna, but I guess personally, since you worked with it for so long, is there anything you notice about it that stands out?

TK: Other than the changes in the building that makes, just from the lighting. And everything new, and just to make it all happen and make it all work. You know, it’s amazing the amount of people it takes to make the Viennese Ball a success every year. From setup crew, from EPC sounds, organizing all the music, and entertainment, and that is, you know, an undertaking as far as my end, I’m always looking for new things to do for it, this year we opened up the second floor Das Hut, wine and beer bar. So that was a now, a challenge, to how do I make this look? You know, what do I do with this? So, I went on and just kinda did some, a little bit of background checking on some, just some local bars, you know and that, over in Vienna, and, come what under with that, come up with some new ideas, so the first night was kinda slow, but Saturday night it picked up. I think so that, you know, we’ll make some changes for next year, and, other than that, I said just the decorations, and the flowers, and everything to bring this building all together. I encourage all of our students, you know, that work for us, and the ones
that we have organization and stuff volunteer, with our groups to raise money for the
organizations, so when I have my meeting with them, I encourage them to walk around, you know, to see, you know every year, how many have been to the ball? How many have worked the ball? And it’s amazing how many actually have been working as an organization for us for the last 6 years. With the different ones that have come in and worked, so other than that, just the changes every year that they try to make to the ballroom up there, you know, this year was my favorite.


ZS: Awesome, yeah that’s good to hear.

TK: I mean, every year I walk in and go “wow” but this year, I don’t know, I just stood there and, I think it just really worked.

ZS: That’s awesome. It sounds like you, so I don’t know this, but it sounds like you do some, like visual work with setting up, too, or like, you kinda choose, that’s awesome. You wanna elaborate, like do you then put that on someone else to be like “oh, do you wanna go get this” or do you kind of, like, initiate everything with the visuals?

TK: Pretty much I try to do most of , I mean I set out to do things myself, you know, and that, I’ve always got people that are looking for something to do, so, it’s just like the decorating downstairs in the market place, and Dulaney, and that, I pretty much try to do a lot of that ahead of time, pull carts and get everything pulled and set to go because come Friday when the market place closes at 1 o’clock, you think “oh, we got til 6 o’clock,” you know, to get ready, but it’s that last minute cleanup over and a lot of the stuff I have is out in storage, and I always go out and get that, or it’s in my storage shed at home, so a few trips in, back and forth, with some stuff, like what I got to take home today is more stuff, but like, so I like to do a lot of the detail stuff myself, just you know, ‘cause I know how I want it. You know. So, but otherwise, I got some that have been here for years that were in catering, and worked with me, so they pretty much know how I like it and what to do, so got a good crew to help.

ZS: You did a great job with the visual, I mean I saw, I didn’t go, but I saw lots of Instagram pictures of the event, it was just beautiful, so, great job on that.

TK: Yeah, it really is. Mine is pretty much just in the food service area down there, so. And I do my own flower arrangements, so yeah. Which um, this year was a little crunch time to get those done in time, second floor took up more of my time, I think, this year because it was new. I wasn’t sure where to place anything, and just with the posters and everything we had hanging on the wall, and I don’t know, did either one of you see this year, or go this year?

ZS: We couldn’t make it this year.

T: I had to work this year. So I couldn’t, yeah.

TK: Have you ever been to it?

T: No, I have not.

TK: You definitely need to, you definitely need to.

ZS: I’ll probably go next year.

TK: Just to actually see what the Viennese is all about.

T: I wanna try to get there before my senior year, which is next year, so I gotta go next year.

ZS: Did you, I guess moving a little bit forward, did you know Ada Bors well? Did you work with her?

TK: Yes, Ada Bors was basically my mentor when I was in catering. I learned so much from her. The sweetest of ladies. She knew what she wanted, and what she expected, and everything was precise. So, I guess my fondest memory of Ada is that she was just so easy to work with. You know, she was just so good. She could walk into a banquet room of 600 people so that’d we’d have set up, and she could find one dirty fork in the whole room. Well, I now have that talent for it too. I mean, she’s seen everything. If there was something that didn’t look right, or whatever, she could go in, and the Viennese Ball was her life, you know. I mean, she just did, I learned so much from her. And so I’m trying to pass that down to, you know, my staff and that, too. So between her and Ada Bors, both were just so easy to work with. Miss her dearly.

ZS: That’s amazing you learned all that from her, it’s really cool she had that impact on you.

TK: Yep, she did. For every event that I do now, I’m thinking cabaret, and we put candles on the tables, and if they weren’t she would literally have a string that went from one end to the other of the ball room over in Ojibwe room, over in the old building and line that string up. Everything was perfect. Everything was straight in a line, I can’t do that in this building now, for cabaret, because the tables are not all lined up just right. You know, so it’s like, I gotta turn my eye a little bit, sorry Ada!

ZS: She would appreciate all the work that you’ve done and everything for it. Alright, is there anyone else from the Viennese Ball in the past that made an impact on you in that way, of helping out or?

TK: Karen Stuber. Worked with her for, throughout all of my years with her, too, and side by side on things, too, so learned a lot from Karen over the years, too. Sorry to say that she left, too. Miss her on it. We always communicated our needs and that, she was so easy to work with. Ron, my mind is blank. There’s so many of them over the years that I’ve worked with. Some are still volunteering, and that, so. Them are my most memorable ones.

ZS: For sure. So…

TK: Gary Schwarzoff, he’s the other one. I worked with him for cabaret and any other musical ones, too, so.

ZS: Let’s see. What do you enjoy personally about what you do for the Viennese Ball?

TK: Decorating. Working with my flowers. Making flower arrangements puts me at peace. It does. Just the decorating aspect of it. I love to decorate. I think that’s the biggest thing. That, and working with flowers. I always say when I retire from here, that’s what I’m gonna do is go work, and I already got lined up with me, May’s Floral, when I retire I can help over there. I got thinking, I can’t, I’m allergic to eucalyptus. I just developed that, so, we’ll see. I’ve got 25 huge flower beds at my house that take me all summer to do, so that says it all about flowers.

ZS: Oh my gosh, that’s awesome.

T: No eucalyptus in your own flower beds.

TK: No eucalyptus! Nope, nope, no eucalyptus.

ZS: How do you feel that you have impacted the Viennese Ball since you started 30 years ago?

TK: Uhhh...impacted...Well, lots of hours. Dedication, I think to, you know and that, with the new things. Always coming up with new ideas and new things, new foods. Just, I think that with that alone, and then with the students, them learning, what’s going on over the year, and spending time with them, to know what it’s about and how important it really is to make it a success. And I think just working with our full time staff and everything, too, and I think just coming up with new ideas and foods.

ZS: What’s your process, kind of, for like finding new foods, or considering new foods for each year?

TK: Um, pretty much going on, online, looking out there for authentic recipes, um, as authentic as we can, you know, a small tasting of them before of our own, and see what’s working, which ones just don’t come out right. But I haven’t did that now, the last year, we didn’t, our chef does that now. So he comes up with the new ideas. I did for many years.

ZS: So, I guess, how far in advance or how much preparation is there for catering for the
Viennese Ball, is it, like a year-round, is your year kind of revolved around it?

TK: Yeah, pretty much, I mean I know more, I’ve got a book that, and I don’t have all my
paperwork in, but usually I can’t get the binder shut. And that’s basically all of the different areas, the different vendors, and all that. So, that’s my Viennese Ball book, and like I said, I’ve got folders and stuff/things that gotta go in there, just to keep track of, counts, what we do from one year to the other, of just food, alcohol, schedules, and all that, too, just to keep track of what’s left, how much is used, you know, of everything, and this way, and then kind of plan accordingly. And then just to get the special orders, ‘cause we got a lot of special orders, you know, between linens and food, and beer and all that, which takes my main...I pretty much start the heavy getting into it in January, and that’s just lining up all of our vendors, and forewarning them that, you know, this is coming up again, which I think most of them all know, a lot of them will reach out to me, and it’s like “Umm, getting in that time of the year again! You know, what are we going with this year?” Just getting ahold of the sculpture guy, and that, too, so.

*phone rings*

ZS: We can stop if you want….Would you say then, after the Viennese Ball, it kind of isl, like, a de-escalation for you in terms of how much work you are doing, or is it still like, the same amount of work the entire year, or are you kind of like relieved right now that it’s, you know, over for..

TK: Yes. For the most part it’s not over yet, because we’ve still got stuff to put away, and get everything back to normal again. I’m glad it’s over, it’s just for the fact of the hours I’ve put in, the weeks starting on Tuesday and just Thursday and Friday alone, or Friday and Saturday alone, I had 37 hours in the two days, so then add on more hours from Wednesday through, it’s a lot of hours, so anywhere from 100 hours to better, in that short amount of time. It takes a little time to recuperate. And then on Monday morning, we come in and if we have any tortes left, we sell them down in the marketplace or staff here that work here and they’ll go around and if they want to buy them, they’ll box them up, so that’s the first thing we do on Monday morning is get the tortes out and use those, and everybody looks forward to them.

ZS: I bet. I mean I bet that even though it’s all that work, it’s a fulfilling and rewarding feeling.

TK: And it really is. I mean to know that another ball has gone by and it was a success.
Everything worked out good, there was no major food items, we didn’t run out of anything, that’s always our successes is that we made it through. Every year you kinda question “Is that gonna be enough for both nights for food, for beverages and everything?”

ZS: Has there been a year that you can recall where there was like, a major problem or

TK: No, well, there was, one year, we had gotten venison, from Crescent Meats, and we were doing venison stew, and anyway on Friday night they said we’re gonna need more meat. So, we of course called Crescent Meats and I said “I don’t think we’re gonna need it.” I says “show me what you got left” and blah, blah, blah, and I said “I don’t think you’re going to need it.” But then, I think, the chef insisted, so we did, and I had to run to Cadott, we got a box and it was frozen. You don’t thaw a 30lb box of venison in a matter of a few hours. And as it turned out what we could get thawed, you know, a little bit and a little bit, we didn’t need it anyway. But it was safe, we were always better safe than sorry. And so we never ever had a run out, hilltop manager up there if there was something that he had on his menu that we needed if we did run out of something, or whatever, he was always on standby for, to have it to get it, so. We never actually ran out of anything.

ZS: Considering all of the years you were involved with it, that’s, like, a pretty minor problem, I think for all the years…

TK: yeah, like I said, it’s amazing. You know, it really is, but we’ve cut close, you know, it’s been close, like this year with the brats, and the amount of brats that we ordered, it was getting close to time and there were only about 10 brats left. All said and done, the doors were closed, and we still had 5 brats left. 12 o’clock at midnight, that was really close, but then they found another case in the cooler. So, we were good.

ZS: As far as your catering team, what do you have? Is it like, I guess how many people do you consider helping out under your rule of catering?

TK: Well, I have my supervisor, Kaleen, and then I have Travis, who is my office/catering
manager too, to where he helps out. He does a lot of the signage, he does a lot of the
paperwork and that, needs to for the menuing, we come up with the menu and he has to make all the, do all the graphics and everything. So them are my two main ones. And then I have two full time catering staff, but they’re usually so busy with other caterings that they really don’t have a whole lot of other time than their shifts that they have to cater for the Viennese Ball. So for the most part, it’s, like I said, us three, doing our part of it, and then downstairs, for marketplace and they got managers down there to help get that all set up. But as far as um, of course we’ve got all of our student staff that are scheduled, too, for the events, so which is, usually about 15 of them we’ve got for catering student, plus the organization.

ZS: You feel like that’s enough help that you get each year? Do you wish there was more?

TK: Umm, I think it’s gotten better over the years, you know. Especially with the, just even with the catering students, we’ve hired more, um, because with their schedules and with their classes and everything, they all can’t work, you know, at certain times, so we pretty much just fill them in the spots that we have open, so. I’ve got a good catering student crew this year. Excellent. Excellent. They’re all doing well, and they started all as freshman, so I got them for a couple nother years. Which is awesome, because this way it gets me another two years to have some more freshman come in and start training them as student managers, so.

ZS: Alright, so I guess we’re gonna move on to some final reflections on the Viennese Ball. So we talked about the grand scope of the thing, I guess, what do you think is the value or the impact of the Viennese Ball on UW-Eau Claire? As a whole?

TK: I think it’s the greatest event that they could have. You know, I mean, I don’t think that they’re going to get any better crowd than they could, if we had a bigger building, that we could, you know, especially on saturday night, we could do it double the size, probably. And I know that there are some plans down the road that different thoughts, as far as coming to do. But I can’t give that out. It’s just being discussed right now. Friday night is always slower. For Friday night, everybody works, and you don’t really feel like going home, and getting dressed, and all that, so they do a push to get more students involved into it. So I’m not sure as far as how that’s gonna play out. You know, to do that, whether or not they decide to go a whole different thing but, on Friday night, with more jazz and music, and whatever, so, and I know there are thoughts every year to get the sales up on Friday night. So I think for the impact of Eau Claire, you know and that, just bringing business in, from out of the cities, all over, they come in just for the hotels and everything too. It brings business from different places.

ZS: Is there anything that was around, pertaining to the Viennese Ball, when you started
working on it 30 years ago, that isn’t now, that you miss? Or are you happy with where it is now?

TK: I’m happy with where it’s at now. I think it’s gotten bigger, so much bigger, so there’s more room, there’s more different things, that we can. When I first started here, we had it on the second floor in Davies. So it was just that one main floor. Well then they started getting bigger, so they opened it up to come up with things to do on the first floor down there. So that really helped then, take away the crowds on the second floor. So, it kind of averaged the people around a little bit better. Moved them around so it wasn’t great, big masses of people, you know. With the polka room, the ball room would still be full but you could get through the halls better.

ZS: Alright, and then, sort of lastly, what are your hopes and wishes for the future of the
Viennese Ball? If anything were to change, or continue with it?

TK: Hopes would be to get sales up for Friday night. Future? Just keep trying to come up with new ideas, you know, and that, that’s going to put it out there to get more people in. Saturday night, I don’t think we can get any more people in. For Friday night, as a matter of fact, for the last four years, five years, they’ve been adding a few more ticket sales, along the way, capacity wise.

ZS: This is sort of just going off of that, is there a reason, is doing both nights just a matter of income for the Ball? Or is it, it sounds like Friday doesn’t bring in a lot of people. Do they do Friday just to get people that can’t do it on Saturday?

TK: Yeah.

ZS: Okay. Makes sense. Is there anything you wish we had asked you today?

TK: No, I think we’ve covered everything.

ZS: Awesome, well thank you so much for answering our questions, and I think that
concludes the interview.

TK: You’re welcome

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