It’s 8:52 a.m. in the Sanford School of Public Policy and that overplayed Lady Gaga song (you know the one) on Sanford Deli’s radio easily drowns out the conversations of the two or three people sitting nearby. Roger Dubay, manager of the deli, has been awake for nearly three hours, but the deli has not yet seen its first rush of the day. It’s that 6 a.m. wake-up call that’s the worst part of the job, he confides in me, as I remember the first time I met Dubay.
Those brownies at the deli called my name as I wandered into the M.C. Escher-esque Sanford building, where I took most of my classes. As I waited in line to pay, Dubay introduced himself. From that day forward, he took care to greet me sincerely, wondering about my day—even noticing when my name appeared in The Chronicle. At the time, most of my professors didn’t (or couldn’t) make efforts to do that.
As the song shifted from Gaga, he began to tell me about how he engages with the students who pass through the deli, despite the fact that they’re almost always scrambling to get to class or eager to head home. Even years after their graduation, Dubay can recall the names of students he met during his first year working at Sanford seven years ago. Before coming to Duke, Dubay worked at a restaurant in Raleigh—a place more upscale than the deli, where he was required to say the patron’s name five times during the meal. Now, he takes a glance at students’ DukeCards to thank them while they pay.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Dubay moved to North Carolina early in his childhood when his father, who was serving in the military, was stationed at Fort Bragg. Since then, he has lived and worked in the area, moving between Raleigh and Durham and Chapel Hill. He admits to this last part in a barely-audible whisper, in an attempt to not betray his devotion to the home team.
As anyone who has spoken to Dubay during basketball season knows, he bleeds as much blue as any student attending Duke. “This is the best job I’ve had. Not just because of the basketball players,” he says, joking, though he knows several of them on a first-name basis, “but because of all the students in general. I mean, the students are great.”
Dubay may be a hidden asset of the Public Policy major—when memos on cost-benefit analysis begin to pile up, he can offer a “How are you?” and a pickle to accompany the club sandwich you’ve just ordered. Dubay started as manager just one year after Sanford was built and has witnessed the changes that building is undergoing: the growing Masters in Public Policy class sizes, the changes in faculty and, most recently, the transformation of the former institute into Duke’s 10th school. And while he says it can be hard to watch students he grows close to graduate, many come back on visits and reconnect. It’s likely that students in the future will get a chance to do that, too.
“I told my boss that I want to retire working at Sanford Deli. And he said, ‘I don’t see any problem with that.’”