Dickinson Café Employee Keeps Knights Close to Heart

By Samantha Hart

Staff Writer

Married at 16.

Dropped out of high school.

“I never went to college, and it was the biggest mistake of my life,” said Aida Kolenovic, a Gourmet Dining employee who works in the Dickinson Café. “But I don’t regret anything.”

Kolenovic knows the ins and outs of this on-campus restaurant. She knows exactly how to make each Starbucks drink and how to craft each sandwich on the menu, from breakfast sandwiches to vegetarian specialties.

Kolenovic started working at FDU in November, after moving to Hackensack from New York City, when her husband got a job as a superintendent in the building they now call home.

She said that her three children; Beco, 15; Sara, 14; and Samra, 11; are happy with the move because they see more of her now than when they lived in New York City, because she was always working.

“The kids love it here,” Kolenovic said. “I pick them up [from school] and we do homework, dinner. . . and we do family things. It’s amazing.”

Kolenovic is no stranger to moving. Just three days before her third birthday in 1986, her parents decided to move with her and her sister to the United States from Albania.

“For the most part, a lot of people don’t live good [in Albania],” Kolenovic said. “I guess it’s poverty or whatever they want to call it over there, but they have to make ends meet . . . and I thank my dad and my mom every single day that they did not have us grow up over there.”

Kolenovic has yet to return to Albania, but plans to visit her parent’s second home there in the countryside. She said that the 360-degree view of the mountains will make all of her seven other siblings more than willing to visit there during the summers.

Kolenovic and her husband work together in an unusual business: “Flipping” houses. She has been doing it since she was 18.

“It is not that easy, let me tell you,” Kolenovic said. “Sometimes you get lucky with just minor cosmetics . . .  but when you have to crush everything from the floor to the ceiling, that’s a little bit of hard work.”

She is a firm believer in the value of the real estate market.

“Real estate, even if it goes down, it never goes out,” she said. Buyers are interested in houses that are fixer-uppers like they see on HGTV, but they don’t actually want to do the fixing themselves, which is where the Kolenovics step in.

When she’s not working, Kolenovic is spending her time with her children at their getaway home in upstate New York or going to one of their basketball games. All three of her kids, including 6’6’’ Beco, who dreams of playing for Duke, have been raised to value their education.

“‘But mom, what if the basketball doesn’t work out?’ my son will ask, and I’ll tell him, ‘even if basketball does work out, I still want you to get a degree,’” Kolenovic says. “I try not to push them too much, but when it comes to academics: I want that done first.”

Her choice to work at Dickinson Café began when she realized sitting at home was not in the cards for her. Ever since her family’s move to Hackensack, Kolenovic decided to axe her career in Manhattan and be a stay-at-home mom.

“Never stay home,” Kolenovic advises. “I tried it for almost three years and it was just very boring.”

Luckily, she met Angie, the manager at Dickinson Café, who gave her the option to work a few hours a day while her children are in school.

While on the job, Kolenovic tries her hardest to make the process at Dickinson Café as simple and cheap as possible for the students. She tells her managers the truth about the food they receive. Sometimes the sushi isn’t as popular as usual because they change distributors and the price will rise.

“It’s not fair to the students,” she said. “They pay more than enough on anything and everything here, so how about we make things a little different?”

Kolenovic hopes her son gets to play at Duke. Like most parents, she wants her children to stay close to home for as long as they can so she can be sure they are safe. That’s where Fairleigh Dickinson University comes in. Kolenovic said she wouldn’t mind if her son played basketball for the Knights.

“My children are going to grow up and come to this college or any college here in New Jersey and it’s wonderful… The kids have a lot of respect and that’s the most important thing and that’s what I love.”