Every other Thursday, a few employees and managers of The Loop Pizza Grill and a few of its regular college customers get together to have a little tournament and play Mario Super Smash Brothers.
“We get into it, but it’s not just about the competition,” said Javon Singletary, one of the four founding fathers of these video game nights and an employee at The Loop. “When you really look at it, it’s just a good vibe hangout with students. It’s our fun, our little holiday.”
The players inquire about each other’s weeks and offer advice to one another, sometimes serious and sometimes playful.
“You can’t use food points on grocery bills in the real world,” Singletary said.
Singletary, the outgoing 29 year old Durham resident, acts as the unofficial greeter and always-friendly face of the on-campus eatery. His boisterous laugh carries through the restaurant, even on the most crowded nights.
After leaving the former campus restaurant Alpine Bagel for The Loop and a pay increase five years ago, Singletary embraced his role as the face of the campus eatery. He even jokingly signs some of his messages, “Javon aka I am The Loop.” While Singletary proudly touts his status as the core of the campus diner, he is not alone.
“Javon is basically the face of The Loop,” said Nicholas Monday, one of the general managers of The Loop and Singletary’s bosses. “He’s such a social person—well known and well liked—so we like to get him out front in the restaurant and at any event.”
For our interviews, Singletary situates himself so that he can survey the restaurant’s most heavily trafficked areas. He repeatedly smiles and salutes to friends across the restaurant, and his regular customers frequently come over for a fist bump or unique handshake. To these buddies, Singletary then explains who I am, to which every one of them responds along the lines, “J is the best.” He beams. Relaxed and confident, Singletary is clearly in his natural habitat.
“To be honest, I love it here. I keep telling them each and every day, ‘I am The Loop. This"—he says, gesturing to the interior of The Loop—"is the body, and I am the heart.’”
Singletary identifies The Loop as his second home. While he weekly works four 12 or 14-hour shifts from noon to closing, he does not complain. In fact, he finds the bright side of his long hours—he only has to come in four days per week.
Before starting work each day, Singletary says a brief, two-minute prayer.
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“I say, ‘Dear God, please let me have a good day today,’” Singletary said. “I thank Him and pray that nothing goes wrong and everyone else will have a good day, too.”
Singletary tries to bring this sympathy into each interaction with The Loop’s customers.
“I see a lot of interesting things and a lot of interesting characters,” Singletary said. “So that’s very fun and very cool.”
Students also look forward to their conversations with Singletary at The Loop.
"He can always brighten my day," said junior Kolapo Aluko. "I know the same goes for a ton of other students, too."
Singletary said that his best stories are consistently from the festivities on Last Day of Classes.
“I get it,” he said. “You went to class for so many days, so you can finally do whatever you want. You can finally be yourself.”
One LDOC, some students attempted to burn the chairs on the patio of The Loop’s old location. On another, he was involved in a small food fight in the restaurant itself. Singletary enjoys telling the stories, his arms wave wildly as he pleads with the students not to set fire to the furniture and his laugh bursts through as he describes the “great” food fight.
Singletary’s most prized LDOC memories, however, do not involve crazy antics, but signs of appreciation from his favorite student customers.
“I love when my regular customers come in and they just tell me how much they appreciate me,” Singletary said. “I am glad they came into my life.”
In fact, LDOC marks the beginning of the worst period for Singletary—the almost empty campus during summer and the departure of his eldest regular customers.
“In the summertime, there is no one to talk to,” Singletary said. “I hate to see the people who go that I’ve become so attached to, but there is a point in people’s lives where we’ve done our thing, and now they need to go do their thing.”
The constantly shifting clientele on a college campus is the hardest aspect of his job for Singletary to grow accustomed to.
“[The students] tell you about their days, and you tell them about your days—then they’re gone,” he said. “I get too attached. And you’ve got these new guys coming in and you’ve got to build new friendships with them.”
Singletary discussed a wide range of topics: his favorite actors (recalling Will Ferrell’s work made him want to go home and watch Elf), his role model (his childhood best friend and “partner in crime”), his favorite food at The Loop (the barbeque chicken sandwich) and his spirit animal (after much debate and some Googling, he settled on the husky).
It does not matter what topic of conversation I bring up though. Singletary consistently returns back to the same talking point—his love for and appreciation of his customers.
“My favorite part is that I get to make sure everyone is happy,” Singletary said. “I care a lot about a lot of people, especially you guys. I care about the students, and I want them to know that.”
Singletary said that his customers regularly come in and talk to him, detailing their problems. He attempts to act as a sounding board and comforter to the students. Case in point, Singletary promised to call my editor if I did not receive an A+ on my story.
“I do what I can to make sure everyone is happy and gets what they want,” he said. “If not, I ask, ‘How can I help you? How can I fix this situation?’ or sometimes I just listen.”
Appropriately, Singletary will soon be a fully-fledged bartender at The Loop’s bar. He has been learning the ropes in other areas of the restaurant as well, in hopes of moving up into management levels.
“I still have a lot to learn,” Singletary said. “But, one day, I’m going to run this place.”
With the help of his managers, he anticipates continuing to climb up the ladder at The Loop. Singletary admits that there is a lot of progress for him to make, especially on the business side of operations. Nevertheless, Singletary is determined to own his own business.
“I’m almost at 30,” he said. “Whoo, I’m getting scared, getting very scared. It’s about time to hang up the gloves soon. But no, I’ve got a long way to go, and I got plenty of time. I’ve got to get this restaurant first then, I can think about [other things].”
Singletary has wanted to own his own business since high school, and he has been in the restaurant business just as long. His high school was part of an occupational course and study program. To earn his degree, Singletary had to work, and he found employment at a local Durham restaurant.
“It was great because the whole thing was basically Job 101,” he said. “It prepared me for the real world.”
In addition to this program, Singletary was involved in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He credits JROTC with giving him a new outlook on the world—one that included discipline and rewarding work. While he loved wearing the badges for his accomplishments on his chest, Singletary had a difficult time at the meets for the drill team because the naturally bubbly man was not allowed to smile.
“[The judges] try to make you smile and laugh,” he said, laughing. “And it was so hard not to give in.”
Over a decade later, Singletary has found the right outlet for his ability to smile in any situation, transforming it from a weakness on the drill team to an asset in customer service. At The Loop, his goal is to greet each customer with his well-known smile and enthusiasm.
“I try always to be positive and happy and cheerful with everyone,” he said. “I have a big heart for everybody—even those of you guys who I don’t know, because I will [know] you.”
The secret to Singletary’s almost-constant liveliness?
“Being yourself helps you be positive,” Singletary said. “When you’re happy with who you are, you’re happy. Sometimes, I have those days, but I don’t let that get me down.”
Singletary encourages his regular customers to do the same.
“I accept you [the students] for who you are,” he said. “Thank you for just being you. I am just so grateful for that.”
When he is not working and learning at The Loop, Singletary says he sleeps, plans and dreams about his future.
“I am thinking about what’s next for Javon,” Singletary said. “I know that the next chapter includes The Loop. I just don’t want to know what the end is going to be until I’m done writing. Until then, I’ll just keep being me.”