Dining Services Supervisor Kim Au, a familiar face in the Spa, came to Colby in 2010 after a long career in the Central Maine restaurant business, though she began her career as a teacher. “I used to teach kindergarten and first grade in Winslow, but in the summertime I had to get a summer job, so I went to work at Burger King.” It was during this time that Au met her husband, Carino Au. “He came through the drive-thru and the girl at the window said she couldn’t understand what he said, and I said ‘He wants a cup of coffee with two creams and three sugars.’… So we switched and I went to the drive-thru and waited on him, and he paid for his coffee with a twenty dollar bill, so when I put my hand out the window to give him his change I put one hand on the top and one hand on the bottom so the money wouldn’t blow away, and to this day he tells everyone that I tried to hold his hand.” After this first encounter, Au says her husband eventually worked up the courage to go into the restaurant. They exchanged phone numbers and went on a date, and after a year of dating and a year of living together, they got married.
Though Au was born and raised in Waterville, her husband is originally from China. She says her husband opened a restaurant in Rockland that did very well in the tourist-heavy summers, but struggled in the off season. After taking advantage of a business opportunity in Waterville he opened the Hong Kong Express, which was next to JC Penney. They quickly outgrew that location, and it was then that the couple opened The Jade Island on property they had rented from the City of Waterville. Au also says she opened a restaurant in Oakland in 1986 called Kim’s Kitchen.
Au and her husband have two daughters: Kendra, who is a health education teacher at Winslow High School, and Jerrie Lee, who is the manager of job sites at a cleaning service. The couple also has two granddaughters who are 13 and 15.
Au came to Colby after selling The Jade Island in 2010. Facing stiff financial competition, the couple was approached by a very reputable businessmen in the area and decided to sell their restaurant. “My husband is 10 years older than I am. I just turned 60, and my husband… he’s 70 years old today. We decided it was the right time and the right opportunity.”
She then applied for a position with Sodexo and was hired as the supervisor for Dana hall. After working there for one year, Au applied for a job in the Spa. “I’m more of a true second shift or night person, having had a restaurant for 27 years. We had a full bar, we had take out service; it was more what I was geared for than being a supervisor for a dining hall.” Au also says it felt good to know Sodexo could rely on her to work the later shifts, as she was consistent and dependable.
Au says her experience at Colby was much different than her experience at The Jade Island, particularly because of her relationship with the students. She says she had a strong customer base at her restaurant, made up of friends and regulars, and that in the transition to Colby she has accompanied kids from their first year through their last. “They call me Mama Au, they treat me like a mother or a grandmother. I’ve seen them cry. I’ve seen them when they’ve had their happy experiences. I’ve been mentioned in their address at their graduation.”
The good news for Colby students is that Au plans to stay at Colby for a few more years before taking her retirement. “I want to go until I’m 63 and then take early retirement so I can enjoy my time with my husband—he’ll be 73. Our goal is to retire and move back to Hawai’i, because my husband lived there for seven years, he has four brothers who live there with their families. Our grandchildren will be in college and our kids are all grown up, so we can get out of the Maine winters.”
Au’s unique relationship with Colby students has made an impact on both their lives and hers. Au has become a beloved member of the dining service staff, and it is obvious that she genuinely cares about the Colby student body. “It makes me proud to know that I’m something they’re going to take away with them, that after all their experiences here at Colby the little old lady at the Spa made an impact. To me that’s a really, really big deal.”