Sitting down with Jameel Thompkins in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center is like sitting with a celebrity at Disneyland. Within minutes of sitting down, three students came up to Thompkins and greeted him with huge smiles and handshakes.
Thompkins, who’s known for his cheerful and friendly demeanor at Lemonade, has been part of the USC culinary staff since August 2010 and has worked at Lemonade since its beginnings on campus.
Thompkins credits his warmth to what he was taught as a child.
“What you put out is what you receive back,” Thompkins said. “Even if I am not having a good day I try to project a good attitude and it helps — it really does.”
Thompkins said that he tries his best to be accommodating for the students, especially when they forget their wallet or ID.
“I sometimes will even dig into my own wallet and pay for them,” Thompkins said.
His cheerfulness, however, is nothing new. Thompkins described himself as a “class clown” when he was young.
“You name [the pranks], and I did them,” Thompkins said. “Everything from prank calling someone’s telephone to the shaving cream in the hand while someone is asleep … I’ve outgrown some of that stuff, but I am still a sucker for a good joke.”
Before working at Lemonade, Thompkins served in the military. Coming from a line of military men, he always felt it was his duty to serve. Fresh out of high school, Thompkins started as a cook on a submarine with a crew of about 130 members.
As a cook in the military, Thompkins prepared meals for the crew members and served as a night baker. After four years at sea, he left with an honorable discharge.
After the military, Thompkins dabbled in different work. He began working in construction but lost his job after the housing market crashed.
“So I came back to what I knew, which was the culinary arts,” Thompkins said.
Now, Thompkins is looking to go back to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree in culinary science. He hopes to open his own restaurant one day.
But for now, students want to keep seeing him around campus. When one of those three students who greeted Thompkins in the Campus Center said goodbye, Thompkins said, “See you later! I’ll take care of you.”