Sweeter than the IK’s cookies

Christina Cleary

It’s a common scenario: you crawl into the Italian Kitchen, your shoulders hunched from the weight of far too many textbooks. Your planner mockingly reminds you that there is just enough time to ravenously devour a chicken parm sandwich before your next group meeting.

Despite your weariness, however, there is a warm face and a kind greeting to welcome you when you finally trudge through the line and reach the register.

Standing at just five foot two, Zina Sorrentino is as deliciously delightful and as irresistibly Italian as the steaming garlic bread on your Styrofoam plate.

Zina, who works the 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. shift Monday through Friday, is well-known and well-loved around campus.

Having worked in Dining Services for the past 12 years, first at the Corner Grill and currently at the Italian Kitchen, she has touched the lives of students and co-workers alike.

“Zina is our star,” assistant chef Carl Sheridan, says. “She just exceeds in her work, you know? Some people give 110 percent, Zina gives 120. She even works on her break.

“Words can’t really say what a good worker she is. She’s quite the special lady. We’re really lucky to work with her.”

And Villanova students acknowledge that they are really lucky to have her. Zina is known to tell students when they have enough money left over from their meal to purchase a cookie or other snack.

In addition, when the IK isn’t busy, she often chats amicably with the students, asking about their classes, the formal they went to the previous night or simply how they are doing.

It is her caring disposition and generous nature that have even led some to nickname her their “Villanova mom.”

“I treat everyone the same,” Zina says. “I have some people who are special to me because they talk to me, but I can’t turn my back on anyone if they need me. Sometimes I even pay out of my own pocket if people don’t have enough points. The kids are just so sweet, so nice. I like making them happy. I like getting to know them.”

Zina, who was born in Sicily, Italy, attributes her considerate character to her family. As the oldest of seven children, she learned the importance of taking care of others at a young age.

“It’s beautiful having a big family,” she says. “Things could be good or bad, but they are always there. They always take care of you.”

At the age of 16, Zina moved to the United States with her father, leaving behind her family and her fiancé. After six months, the rest of her family joined them in Pennsylvania. Then, two years later, in true storybook romance fashion, Zina returned to Italy to marry her husband, Salvatore.

“We’ve been married 30 years,” she says with a smile. “Thirty-one in July. It’s a long time, but we are still in love. I don’t have any regrets.”

She and her husband have three children: Grace, 28; John, 26; and Maurice, 22.

Besides working at the University, where she has been employed since 1993, Zina also enjoys Italian cooking and dancing. She prides herself on the fact that she makes everything from scratch and does not buy anything frozen.

When asked about her hobbies, however, Zina says with a laugh, “Hobbies? What hobbies? All I do is work all the time.”

That’s a source of happiness for students like junior Kira O’Connor.

In a card that she recently presented to Zina, whom she affectionately addresses as Zina Beana, Kira wrote, “I am so happy you are here because you make Villanova a better place. You light up the IK and the Grill with your wonderful personality and beautiful smile.”

“She’s really just a phenomenal lady,” agrees junior Anna Zornosa. “She’s really sweet. Sweeter than the cookies they serve at the Italian Kitchen.”