Eastway omelet guys crack jokes, eggs for a morning audience

Steve Gilham, often known as Steve the Omelet Guy prepares an omelet at Eastway Café on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. For the past seven years, Gilham has been serving breakfast to thousands of students. Its rewarding, Gilham said. I connect with a lot of students. It makes my job worthwhile.

Steve Gilham, often known as “Steve the Omelet Guy” prepares an omelet at Eastway Café on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. For the past seven years, Gilham has been serving breakfast to thousands of students. “It’s rewarding,” Gilham said. “I connect with a lot of students. It makes my job worthwhile.”

Mark Oprea

For the early risers and omelet devotees at the Eastway Café, Steve Gilham and Ty Sugick are a common sight. One is a 55-year-old retired custodian, the other a junior broadcast major from Warren, Ohio. Age aside, the bond between the two cooks seems to be unbreakable.

“He’s the first person I see in the morning,” Sugick said. “So he sort of has to be close to me.” 

Well known among Kent State students as “The Omelet Guy”, Gilham affirms that his notoriety as the nonchalant and congenial cook is not completely unfounded. Observers of the duo can see a spark in the kitchen besides those that heat the four tops of the stove — enough to warrant celebrity status. Yet his now-popular moniker, Gilham, says it is a more appropriate label for his team rather than just Gilham alone.

“When people say, ‘The Omelet Guy,’ I just don’t take it as me,” he said. “I take it as the guys I work with as well because we’re all in this together.”

The past six years that Gilham has worked in food services at Kent State has, to him, been majorly enjoyable and, in short, “fun.” He has been paired with Sugick for so long that Eastway regulars fret when the two aren’t together side by side, unable to “save their mornings.” Gilham said any deviation from the duo throws off his “rhythm,” leading to noticeable mood swings customers are apt to point out. This said, his philosophy has been constant throughout the years: “Treat everyone with respect, no matter their differences.”

Growing up in a hard-to-make-do family on the east side of Cleveland, the Gilham household rang with a giving attitude, even in dire straits. Graduating from Shaw High School in 1977, Gilham spent the next two decades working for the Cleveland Board of Education, with line cook gigs here and there around town. Along the way, Gilham helped raise three daughters, all pursuing careers in education and fashion merchandising in New York City. He now lives a quiet life in Streetsboro.

Gilham said he cares for those that pass through the omelet line on a regular basis as he would his own children. He has even been known to cover the cost of breakfast for those with depleted meal plans or in tough times. A freshman once was led to tears due to her inability to pay for her food and was embarrassed because of it. Gilham instantly walked around the grill, dug into his wallet and popped out a $20. To him, it was second nature.

“The worst thing in the world, for me, is to watch somebody else go hungry,” he said. 

What most may not know is that the Gilham presence in the halls of Eastway did not begin with “Omelet Guy” Steve. Both Gilham’s father and mother, Sylvester “Sonny” Gilham and Norrine Gilham, worked in the Eastway kitchen, making their names known among staff many years before him. When Sylvester passed away last August, Gilham was devastated, hit with the unbearable pain of loss. For resilience, he looked to the same crew and audience that he had since day one. Respect, it turned out, was mutual.

For Sugick, the relationship is something two-fold, Gilham being like a brother and a father to him — sometimes more the latter, as Sugick’s father passed away when he was in middle school. Despite generational gaps, jokes are understood easily, just as much as is the serious, down-to-earth conversation on breaks. Just like any solid bromance, the omelet guys have each other’s backs, of which they repeatedly are sure to remind the other.

“Steve senses things and even picks up on things that I don’t,” Sugick said, “things that I’m too naive and young to pick up on. It’s a weird bond, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Gilham said girls will come into the café, eager to flirt with Sugick, some hints going unnoticed without a suggestive nudge from his partner. One visiting father saw such promise in Sugick that he handed the junior his daughter’s cell number. Gilham still reminds him to this day of a missed opportunity. Brothers will be brothers, it seems.

Even when Sugick was late for his 7 a.m. shift one morning, Gilham stood up to cover for him. Managers were set to fire Sugick, but Gilham wouldn’t have it. He put up his hand in Sugick’s defense out of sympathy, and the close-knit duo was saved. Like Gilham says, he will “go to war” for those close to him, even if it means his own sake.

“I could lose my job, but I don’t want to lose a friendship,” Gilham said. “Jobs are a dime a dozen, but friendships like this, they don’t just come and go.”

The myriad of undergrads who have gotten to know the congenial omelet connoisseur behind the counter rarely leave without a solid salute to “The Omelet Guy.” Many he still keeps in touch with — often just an occasional text to say “hello” — some he hasn’t seen in two, three years. Watching students grow up after four years, he says, is moving, just as it would for one’s own kids. Gilham said he tears up at the thought of it.

“If Steve cries in front of me when I leave, I wouldn’t let it down,” Sugick said.

Gilham responds with a reassuring jab, “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with it.”

As far as Sugick graduating, off to pursue a career in sports broadcasting, Gilham said it will be almost unthinkable to work the grill without one of his omelet guys by his side. He may even think about retiring — handing down his title to another willing cook, another “Omelet Guy.” Yet, for now, the celebrity chef duo making a name for themselves at the Eastway Café are still the ones cracking open the majority of the eggs. Further titles will have to wait.

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].