‘Happy when I can help someone’: Hugo Ortega looks out for customers in Food and Nutrition Services

When a UI Health Care employee’s shoe broke at the Compass Express, cashier Hugo Ortega immediately asked himself, “How can I help?” 

Having previously owned a tailor shop in his native Guatemala, Ortega says he’s used to helping customers in instances like this one. Without the usual materials to mend a shoe, however, Ortega was forced to improvise. He ended up using the stapler at his cash register to temporarily secure the shoe.

Hugo Ortega, Food and Nutrition Services employee

“I put myself in the customer’s situation and thought how hard that would be—how uncomfortable,” he says. “After she left, I was thinking that I could have done more, but then when I saw her the next time, I asked her if the improvised shoe worked, and she said it was perfect and lasted the whole day.” 

Although the customer in question worried that she was keeping Ortega from his work, he assured her it was all just a part of the job. 

“I said ‘No, no, no, you’re my customer, and I need to help the customers, so it’s not a problem,’” he says. 

Happy to help 

Stapling together a broken shoe is just one example of how Ortega seeks to make an impact. 

“It’s my goal to help customers; it makes me happy,” he says “Whenever I see them looking around, I say, ‘Would you like something? Do you need some help? If you need help finding something, just let us know.’ I always go and talk to the customers.” 

If he hears customers talking together in Spanish, Ortega says he makes a concerted effort to do the same. 

“I try to help them as soon as I find out they speak Spanish,” he says. “I know they will feel more comfortable if I can engage with them in what’s likely their first language.” 

Keeping customers satisfied 

Ortega is heading into his 18th year at UI Health Care, where he started out as a cook for patients before moving to his current role almost a dozen years ago. In a typical day, he can be found making coffee for the customers in the Fountain Dining Room, manning the cash register in the Compass Express, or helping stock either area with food. 

“Every day it’s about customer satisfaction,” he says. “I would like to see customers back again. That’s what’s important for us—they keep coming back and have good service.”


  1. Hugo is amazing! He is always friendly and makes you feel welcomed when you go through his line. Thank you, Hugo, for your enthusiasm! It is greatly appreciated!

  2. He is great! Friendly, approachable. He even remembers you when you haven’t seen him in awhile – even with a mask on!!

  3. All of my interactions with Hugo have always been wonderful, we are lucky to have staff members like hm at UIHC.

  4. I love Hugo. He remembered my name after the first time I met him. He is kind, considerate and very helpful. I miss him when he is on vacation or has a day off. He also asks about my family and seems to care. Love him!!!!

  5. It always brightens my day to see Hugo! He clearly cares and puts forth a great positive attitude. Thanks for the great work you do!

  6. Hugo is always so friendly and helpful. Always enjoy talking to him he can always bring a smile to your face even on a bad day.

  7. Hugo is the best! I always look forward to seeing him on my lunch break. He certainly goes above and beyond!!

  8. Hugo is an asset to our hospital. He always has a smile on his face. His attitude is great! I’ve seen him outside of work a few times and we always say hello to each other. Great worker, great person.

  9. Hugo is the BEST! We are so fortunate to have him. His smile and positive attitude always makes my day!

  10. It is always a pleasure to see Hugo each day! He is always so friendly and always ask how we are doing. Even with the mask we can tell he always has a smile. Thank you for all you do and the extra mile you go to bring a smile to everyone you encounter.

  11. Well deserved recognition for Hugo! Always makes my day better when he says hi to me by name and asks how my family is doing! Thank you, Hugo, for all you do! Your Customer Service is definitely Above and Beyond! Thank you!

  12. Congratulations, Hugo!!! You deserve the recognition. I always enjoy seeing you when I go the Fountain DR. You are always smiling and in a good mood and just wonderful. We are extremely lucky to have you on Team UIHC!

  13. Hugo is the BEST! He is always helpful, kind and engaging. The world needs more people like him. He needs a raise 🙂 or at least a bonus. He deserves it!

  14. FNS has some truly incredible people on staff. Hugo is one of my absolute favorites!

  15. Hugo is the epitome of customer service. He always has a smile on his face and is quick with a “Good to see you today!” no matter his day or the circumstances. UIHC is lucky to have you, Hugo. Congrats on 18 years of outstanding service!

  16. Hugo is the best! He is always so friendly and helpful and has a positive attitude. I look forward to seeing him when I go over to the hospital for lunch. Congratulations on 18 years!

  17. Not a surprise! Hugo always has a smile, asks about my family and is a joy to be around. Congrats on this recognition, Hugo – very deserved.

  18. Hugo is a wonderful worker and an even better person! He always asks about my kids and we catch up on each other’s families. He’s outstanding!

  19. Hugo is great! Each day I see him is a little better because of him. Long time ago, loved seeing him and his daughter running a race together!!!

  20. Not surprised to see this story and all the comments. I remember Hugo well and talking family and kids with him on many occasions although I now work offsite and don’t get to see him, very kind and humble and has an excellent attitude. Great work Hugo!

  21. Thank you Hugo for everything you do for us and we here at the hospital are blessed to have you as our teammate. You are an example of how people should treat others. Muito Obrigado amigo!

  22. You improve the experience for everyone around you, Hugo! So glad you found your way to our team all those years ago. What a blessing and inspiration you are to us all.

  23. Hugo is truly outstanding! He remembered my name since the first time we met and always asks about my job and family! it’s nice to have a small Spanish conversation every once in a while! very well deserved recognition! Excelente trabajo Hugo, te queremos!

  24. Hugo, is always kind and courteous. He brightens your day with his warm, friendly smile. I am so glad to see him getting the recognition he deserves.

  25. Hugo always makes a person feel special and singled out for attention. he is always friendly and smiling and I love interacting with him! thanks for all you do!!!!

  26. Seeing Hugo always brightens my day! He is the most genuine, kind, down to earth, helpful soul. The world could certainly use more people like Hugo!

  27. Congrats on your 18 years, Hugo!! You are the real deal always showing kindness, happiness, and willing to help any way you can…every day!! Well deserved recognition and please keep up the great work!! Pleasure working with you!

  28. Hugo! You are the best! I am so thankful to see your smiling face everyday in the cafeteria and love our conversations. Thank you for being such a great teammate!

  29. Hugo does have the welcoming, charming, warming personality. It really is something that can’t be taught or learned. Always a pleasure.

  30. Hugo is such a wonderful person and brings a smile to my face every time I interact with him. He always remembers my name and is so genuine. Thank you for all you do, Hugo!

  31. Hugo is the best! He is always pleasant, helpful and kind. He epitomizes customer service. UIHC is lucky to have him on the team. Fantastic to see that he is receiving the recognition he deserves!

  32. Hugo, you are simply an amazing person! I always enjoy our little morning chats. If everyone could be just about 1/8 as kind as you, the world would be a much better place. Thanks for all you do!

  33. There is no one like Hugo! He has a smile on his face every day and you can’t help but feel the positivity coming from him. I am thankful he is here at UIHC. He affects so many people in a positive way and is a huge inspiration to us all!

  34. My job was transferred off the UIHC campus in 2013, but I remember back then how friendly Hugo was when I stopped in for my daily cup of coffee & a quick conversation. I’m glad to see him getting recognition for his very good work.

  35. Yay Hugo! You are definitely appreciated!! I hope all of these wonderful comments really make you feel it. You deserve this recognition for your great service!

  36. Hugo, your attitude is infectious. You are a ray of sunshine to all who cross your path. Thank you for all that you do!

  37. Hugo always has a positive attitude. I enjoy seeing him the times that I am in the Fountain Dinning Room. Thanks for you all you do Hugo!!!!!!

  38. Hugo is one of a kind and his positive attitude and smile are infectious–even in the mornings when I’m groggy. So happy he’s getting recognition!

  39. Hugo always takes time to ask me how my day is going, and this immediately puts a smile on my face. I can only imagine how welcoming this feels to patients!! Hugo – thank you for for all that you do!

  40. As others have expressed, Hugo is one of the best. I don’t know how he keeps everyone straight, but he always asks about my kids and family as though he knows them. He is a great, kind person. It’s a pleasure getting to chat a couple of minutes with him each week.

  41. Hugo embodies our WE CARE values in every aspect of his performance. He is always smiling and makes an effort to get to know each employee by name – truly an asset to our institution!

  42. Going through Hugo’s line always brightens my day. You deserve every bit of recognition and praise I’m seeing in these comments.

  43. Ok. We’ll let Suresh go, if we must. But we can not lose Hugo! Hugo, you are a rock star as a colleague and as a neighbor. But I am still not rooting for the Cubs no matter how many nice things people say about you.

  44. Hugo, it’s telling how many people have left comments—that you are GREATLY appreciated.
    I love seeing you when I’m downstairs, you make the day better.

  45. I’ve been saying hi to Hugo since I was a freshman working at UIHC. It’s been ~5 years, I still work nearby the U and we still say hi to one another. Hugo is one of the warmest people, with the biggest smile at the U.

  46. Hugo, I hope you realize just how much you brighten thousands of people’s day EACH day! You are always a highlight of my day. Thank you for always being so kind, warm, and caring.

  47. Hugo makes UIHC a better place for all! Thank you for spreading good spirits by your welcoming approach, kindness and respect to the many people you come across each day. Hugo deserves a SPOT award!

  48. Hugo always makes my day better! He has an amazing ability to remember specific details about each of his customers, always making a point to ask about my family. He radiates positivity and his smile is contagious. The world needs more Hugos!

  49. As so many others have mentioned, Hugo is absolutely wonderful. He is kind, compassionate, and intentional. He brightens my day anytime our paths cross. Thank you Hugo for all your do. Your smile is contagious.

  50. Hugo is always so super friendly and does an amazing job! Love talking about family, cooking, & gardening with him.

  51. Hugo is very friendly and always put a smile on my face when we speak french. He deserves to be recognized for his amazing customer’s care.

  52. Hola Hugo, Congrats!!!Guatemala,,,Guatemala.!!..you are doing a very good job. Thanks for everything. Blessings.

  53. Be sure to ask him about his kids. He continually has new photos on his phone, and they’re always a joy.

  54. Thank you Hugo for leading by example with your positive energy. If I’m not smiling when I walk into the cafeteria, I’m smiling when I walk out. You have a gift for finding a connection in people and making everyone feel special. God bless.

  55. Hugo is one of the best!! We always have great conversations over my morning cup of coffee. He always has a smile on his face which puts a smile on my face!! Thank you Hugo for everything. Your gesture of kindness doesn’t go unnoticed.

  56. I’m so happy to see Hugo highlighted! He is one extraordinary person who always puts a smile on my face. The world could use more people with Hugo’s kindness and compassion!

  57. Yay Hugo! You are a bright spot in my day every time I get to see you. Thank you for your care and taking the time to chat and remember our conversations!

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