Tucked away in a corner of the Market at Litchfield Towers is The Kosher Plate, Pitt’s go-to store for freshly prepared, warm Kosher food. The lady behind the counter, Ruth McDoodle, has been serving up delicious meals and smiles for two years.
McDoodle, who goes by Ruthie, is a mashgiach — Hebrew for “supervisor” — and ensures the food abides by Kosher laws. The Kosher Plate storefront is one of the only places on campus where students can enjoy Kosher meals. The Mediterranean-style cuisine offers a variety of delicious and familiar options like pita and hummus, to classics like turkey shawarma and falafel.
“I do feel like I have a responsibility to the Kosher community,” McDoodle said. “Knowing that I’m there and that I’m making sure that everything is kept Kosher is important.”
More than being a supervisor of Jewish traditions, McDoodle is also a motherly figure who said she loves speaking with students and staff.
“In a previous life, I was a social worker. I’m a sociable person, and I like to talk to people, and the students don’t mind when I ask them about how their day was,” McDoodle said.
Tanvi Kumar, a first-year psychology major, said McDoodle reminds her of her grandmother, who would put a lot of love and care into the meals she makes.
“There was once when I wasn’t feeling too well and Ruthie spoke with me and gave me tips on how to feel better … she even referred me to her friend who’s a specialist doctor,” Kumar said.
McDoodle said the opportunity to work at the Kosher Plate actually “fell into [her] lap” one day in 2018. Her husband, who used to run the storefront, decided he wanted a change of profession. And after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in nearby Squirrel Hill, she said her husband decided to join the security industry to help keep their synagogue safe.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, McDoodle’s work as a geriatric social worker was put on hold, as infection control regulations didn’t allow her to go into work at a nursing home.
“It was really stressful for me,” McDoodle said. “I don’t like to sit around and not work.”
McDoodle’s circumstances encouraged her to take her husband’s offer to run the Kosher Plate. McDoodle loves her job, and helping students in any way she can.
She said the responsibility can be heavy some days, and the pandemic has not made this any easier.
“I used to have help when I first started, but because of COVID, things have been changed around and they didn’t get me a replacement for the person who moved on to a different position,” McDoodle said.
Jessie Dawson has worked as a staff member for 16 years at the Market at Towers. Dawson has worked with McDoodle for two years, and said she admires McDoodle’s care for students.
“Ruthie is a pleasant person who has a good heart, she’s always there for the kids, she makes them feel like they’re her kids — she’s like a mother hen,” Dawson said.
Dawson said McDoodle does her best on her own, but can always use a helping hand.
“It’s tough on her because it gets very busy and she’s only one person. It’s time consuming, and when kids have class sometimes they don’t want to wait all day. It’s better if she has a helping hand,” Dawson said.
Lisa Rhodes, a veteran Pitt employee, has been involved in all aspects of food service at Pitt with the exception of cooking. She has worked with McDoodle for two years, and prior to that had worked with McDoodle’s husband.
“She is willing to jump in, even when she gets chastised for doing so,” Rhodes said.
Nick Storti and Thomas Thoonkuzhy, two first-year students, come to the Kosher Plate once or twice a week for the high quality food and large portion sizes. Storti said he enjoys that the food is different from other places on campus.
“I like it better than some of the other places because it’s not fried food all the time … it feels good to eat it,” Storti, a chemistry major, said.
Thoonkuzhy, a microbiology major, said he likes the food because he can make one portion last for at least two meals, and the food has “good balance.”
Despite setbacks and challenges, McDoodle said she shows up to work every day for students who look forward to a hearty meal.
“I make sure I get everybody fed the best I can, and make sure it’s always a pleasant experience,” McDoodle said.
McDoodle is no stranger to hard work and adversity. Life has thrown her many obstacles that have shaped her into the person she is today.
As a single mother, McDoodle came to Pitt in 1984 to change professions and enter a job with more financial stability for herself and her son, which she said was “hard.” The unexpectedness of a divorce from her first husband was something she said she found challenging to deal with.
“I was so scared and afraid,” McDoodle said. “This is not where I wanted my life to be.”
She recalled times when her and her son’s schedule wouldn’t align, and she would have to bring her young son to Pitt with her, but said “the teachers never said anything” and were supportive of her.
McDoodle’s determination pulled her through her four years at Pitt, and she graduated in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
McDoodle is always open to sharing her years of experience and valuable wisdom with students. Looking back, the one thing she said she realized about herself was that “you could do anything if you put your heart and soul into it.”
Storti said McDoodle shares this advice with students.
“She’s just really nice all the time, she’s super sweet, she’s super helpful and it's always a good experience talking to her,” Storti said.
While McDoodle’s advice is to study hard, she also tells students that a well-balanced life is equally important. She said it’s okay to be unsure of your chosen profession or major, that you can always take a class on it and explore whether it’s a good fit for you.
“Whatever your chosen profession is, just make sure that you love it and go out there to change the world,” McDoodle said.
McDoodle is more than just a member of staff working at The Kosher Plate — she’s a friend to many students at Pitt whose words of encouragement and reassurance have helped them navigate through the labyrinth of college life.
She said she offers optimism and motherly warmth that keeps everyone around her motivated, as they trudge through the daily struggles of life.
“If you need someone to talk to, I’m here,” McDoodle said. “If you need some advice, I try very hard. I love trying to help people … that’s who I’ve always been and that's who I’ll continue to be.”