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Charlie King: From encores to order-ups

The milkshake machine roars as Charlie King swirls ice cream and chocolate sauce around a plastic cup. He’s wearing a red and white Cradle of Coaches baseball hat, thick-framed chic rectangular black glasses and a red apron. 

Topping off the frozen treat with a mountain of whipped cream, King inhales sharply and bellows, “CHOCOLATE milkshake for SARAH!” 

While King has only worked at Pulley Diner for a year, several students recognize him on sight. His contagious smile, outgoing personality and easy conversation with customers make him hard to forget. 

But few students realize that this seemingly permanent presence at Pulley didn’t always work in the food industry. In fact, at 12 years old, King dreamed of becoming a musician, traveling across the country and playing for audiences everywhere.

“That was my big dream: I was gonna go on the road and play music — and I did,” King said. 

For 11 years, King played the drums and acted as the lead singer for various pop bands, cruising up and down the East Coast and through the Midwest on tour. They’d sometimes play six or seven nights a week, catering to the demands of their growing fanbase. 

Even before King went on tour, he brought his drums with him when he signed up for the Navy right out of high school. Along with three or four other musicians, King would play on the ship or in clubs around the towns they docked in. 

“One of the most exciting places was what is now Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” King said. “We were on the ship, and we had pulled into Guantánamo Bay, and we got to play at the officers club. Usually, you can’t go ashore, so that was pretty cool.”

While he may no longer play music on the road, today King has a group of guys who get together and jam with him. Considering they only play in King’s basement, he said they’re a certifiable “basement band.” 

“I’ve gone full circle,” King said. 

After retiring from the music business in 1985, King joined the staffing industry, working for Kelly Services and Kelly IT as a district manager. About 20 years later, one of King’s contacts in the staffing business called him up and told him about an opportunity to work in career services at Brown Mackie College in Cincinnati.  

For the next five years, King worked one-on-one with students, helping them with resumes, internships and general career prep. By the time Brown Mackie College closed down, King had spent years as the director of career services, overseeing a team of six other career counselors who advised different career programs. 

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Fifteen months ago, King came to Miami University looking for work. 

He now had experience in higher education and a strong desire to work with students. But before applying to career services at Miami, King decided to get his foot in the door at the university through another job.

“Some people out there going, ‘Oh my god, it’s food service!’ I’m going, ‘Yeah, but it’s students!’” King said with a laugh.

“Actually, I love it. It’s the first time I’ve ever worked in food service, which is strange because most people, that’s where they start and get the opportunity to get some experience, and then move on. Mine’s kind of the reverse; I retired from higher education then I came back here as a second career.”

King enjoys the fast pace, constant bustle and commotion at Pulley. But most of all, he treasures the relationships he’s built. 

“I love working with the students. Sometimes we get crazy, there'll be a long line, and I'll yell out, ‘Hey, all my friends are here! Let's sing!’ So we’ll sing a song. Some crazy stuff,” King said. “That's what I love; I love the interaction with the students and singing and music and all that kind of ties it all together.”

King knows he could just sit back and do his job, but that’s not how he operates. When King goes to work, he goes in ready to make it a great day for him and everyone else around him. 

“I’m just being myself, but I want them to feel good and get good service and want to come back,” King said. “It’s not just about getting the food, serving the food, getting the food, serving the food. It’s about connecting with some of the people, getting to know them —  ‘Hey, Charlie, how you doing today?’ And that makes my day.”