University announces new food provider

After a five-month search for a new food service provider, the decision came down to the few members of the presidential cabinet who sat at the conference table Feb. 6 and pondered the choice between two “excellent candidates,” said Kim Hadley, vice president for finance and administration. The members resorted to using secret ballots because the decision was such a difficult one.

Last week, Creative Dining Services rose above the other seven candidates for the contract and was selected as the new food service provider for John Brown University, beginning in June 2013.

“The JBU community is nationally recognized as a leader in providing exceptional value with high values and purpose,” said Nick Saccaro, vice president of operations for Creative Dining. “We couldn’t be more excited to have this opportunity to serve.”

The University sent a five-member team of task force members to other schools that used Creative Dining and other providers. They interviewed school administration, food service directors, chefs, staff and current students at each school. And, of course, they ate and ate some more.

They observed several changes students can expect as a result of Creative Dining’s upcoming partnership with the University.

“By leveraging the space and available dining stations, your resident dining program will step up to the next level,” said Creative Dining in a summary of their proposal.

They plan to integrate concepts such as Taqueria Mexican Street Fare, Emma & Charlie’s Pizza, and Globe International Offerings, each with special-of-the-day offerings, in addition to their regular menu cycle. They also plan to better highlight the “action station” where students can get made-to-order meals.

Other colleges that partner with Creative Dining said the food was comparable and better than what they would find at local restaurants, and that student satisfaction increased after the transition.

When University representatives visited these other schools, they also noticed the food that met special dietary needs, such as gluten-free items, were available and clearly marked.

Administration is working with Creative Dining to make changes to the Kresge Dining Hall to better meet the needs of students. They discussed adding a new beverage station to relieve the current congestion. This change was recommended to the University by all eight candidates in their proposals. They may also add another food serving station to address the concern of long lines during busy times.

Students can anticipate “pace changers” or other special events that are designed to “engage them in fun, community-building activities,” according to Creative Dining’s proposal.

The California Café will look a little different in the fall. Instead of Freshens, Froovie’s organic, cold-blended beverages will be available. They also plan to add Decker’s Sandwiches, an upscale, made-to-order deli concept including gourmet salads and fresh-baked breads. Creative Dining recommends expanding the grill offerings and providing more snack options. The Cali would also serve the main entrée of the day from the cafeteria.

Not only will Creative Dining be serving food in the Kresge Dining Hall and the California Café, they will also be responsible for the catering needs on campus.
With the changes in food service, students can expect a “moderate increase” in board costs, said Hadley. The University announced the specifics on Wednesday. She said the University is absorbing some of the costs and not passing them all on to the student body.

Selecting the new food service provider was an extensive process. The University had a good, long-standing partnership with current provider, ARAMARK, for over 15 years. ARAMARK was one of the eight candidates.

“Just out of due diligence we do this on many of our contracts,” said Hadley. “When you’ve had a relationship that long, it’s good to have a request for proposal. We wanted to make sure we are providing the best food at the best value for our students.”

Stephen Kerr, ARAMARK food service director, said he has known since November that they would not be continuing serving the University next year. He said the process was “very thorough.” He estimated that there were 20 tours with different candidates throughout the process, which he said was “very hard on my employees, but they did well.”

“I understand the University’s decision,” said Kerr. “That doesn’t mean I like it. It has been very disappointing. Basically the University said that ARAMARK did not fit the culture they were looking for. I keep thinking about what we could have done better, but I have to keep my composure.”

Kerr wanted to look out for his 60 employees during the transition. He asks that the student body respect the current employees.

“These are their jobs, their livelihoods. They put their hearts into their jobs,” he said. “I don’t want to see students putting down ARAMARK. Some of the employees may be hired back next year by the new company.”

Founded in 1990, Creative Dining Services has over 70 accounts in nine states. Many of them are organizations like Calvin, Hope and Taylor Universities or organizations such as Focus on the Family. While their corporate headquarters are in Zeeland, Mich., their Operations Director for John Brown University, Glenda Haley, lives in Northwest Arkansas.

Haley said, “Every opportunity we had during the [request for proposal] process to visit the JBU community or interact with the JBU students and staff was wonderful. We see a community here, a community that we are excited to become a part of.”