Along with the incoming class of first-years, another change on Colgate’s campus is the adoption of a new dining service provider, Chartwells. The implementation of Chartwells food service, according to Vice President for Finance and Administration Brian Hutzley, is a result of increasing student dissatisfaction with the former food service provider, Sodexo.
The switch to a new food service provider has brought many changes to Colgate’s food quality and availability on campus. Hutzley, along with Associate Vice President for Community Affairs and Auxiliary Services Joanne Borfitz and District Manager of Chartwells Dining Services Danny Dawkins, all noted that one of the most significant changes to Colgate’s dining is 24/7 accessibility.
The switch in food service providers was based on a collective decision-making committee. While Hutzley had the final say in which provider would ultimately end up signing a contract with Colgate, many of the members of the advisory committee showed an interest in bringing on Chartwells. Eight or nine different food service providers bid for the position at Colgate, with Chartwells ultimately getting the position. Borfitz acted as liaison in the transition process, working closely to communicate between Chartwells and the 19-member advisory committee, four of its members being current Colgate students. Borfitz additionally chaired the selection committee.
“We had forums where students, faculty and staff were invited, and Chartwells came out on top of that process,” Hutzley said.
One of Chartwells’ main focuses is increased sustainability, working to purchase from local and regional growers. Chartwells plans to buy vegetables from Colgate’s community garden and has an urban micro-green cultivator in the O’Connor Campus Center (COOP), a tool that allows Colgate access to freshly grown herbs on site.
“It’s kind of difficult, because the time our students are here is not the time of the growing season in New York,” Hutzley said. Chartwells is looking to use a specific tool to help grow food at all times during the year.
Both Hutzley and Dawkins emphasized the importance of helping the local economy, which he hoped would be a result of Colgate’s new partnership with Chartwells.
“We’re looking for all of our partners to be within a 250-mile block,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins also noted that Chartwells worked with sustainability coordinator Deb Hansen to try to increase the sustainability of their service.
The Hieber Café, located in Case library, is one of the on-campus dining spaces undergoing major renovations. While under construction at the time of publication, Chartwells plans to open the Steep Tea Café to students and faculty on Wednesday, September 2. Colgate will be the first university in the country to serve Bigelow steeped tea, something that Hutzley, Borfitz and Dawkins were excited to share.
In addition to this, the new library café will serve coffee from Death Wish, a company based in Albany, New York. This will serve as one of the products coming from the regional area, and is one of the most popular coffee brands purchased off of Amazon. Borfitz and Dawkins hope that this – in addition to the extended hours of the library café, which will operate on the same hours that the library itself is open – will make the library café a more inviting place for students and faculty to gather.
“[The library café will give] them a place to socialize and hang out, and that’s what we want all our dining venues to be, a social gathering place as well as a place to come and eat,” Borfitz said.
Another one of the changes that Chartwells is trying to implement is a dietician who will be a full-time employee and work closely with the Shaw Wellness Institute to provide students the tools to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. While there was previously a dietician on campus while Sodexo was present, the position was only part-time.
Other new improvements include a homemade pasta maker that will be used to create pasta using flour produced in New York as well as a convenience store that can be accessed 24/7. The C-store will sell many items, including sushi, and students can use a kind of “self-checkout” when shopping in the evening.
Hutzley, Borfitz and Dawkins also addressed challenges that they continue to face in making this quick transition. One such challenge is hiring new workers to staff the various dining locations on campus. While Chartwells did rehire most of the same staff members that Sodexo employed, Chartwells faces the challenge of finding more employees, especially in trying to remain open for longer periods of time.
“They’re still down a few [workers]. I think they still have 15 openings that they’re trying to fill. But they’re going out of their way to try to find those people. They’re reaching out to Syracuse, Utica, Norwich, New York to try to find a broader pool of people,” Hutzley said.
Chartwells is currently working on collaborating with Bernie Bus to bring in workers to campus daily.
Borfitz added that another challenge that they faced in the transition phase was trying to do quite a bit in a very short period of time. Sodexo’s contract ended on July 11, 2015, and Chartwells had to start the very same day, with camps and other summer activities going on at Colgate over the summer. Updating the venues, such as the library café, structurally, made the quick transition even more challenging.
“Even though they kept a majority of the hourly workers from Sodexo, they have a different corporate culture, a different philosophy and a different training approach, and so, in order to get all of the associates through that, it was a really compact time frame, and they didn’t have any opportunities for soft openings to test things out. I mean, they started out running,” Borfitz said.
Junior Natalie Pudalov noted that it is evident that there is still room for growth and improvement in this new system and that there are ways in which Chartwells may have to change in order to accommodate Colgate students.
“It’s quite obvious that Chartwells is still trying to gauge Colgate students—and it’s questionable whether the style in the COOP is really sustainable. Also, there seems to be the same kind of food everyday at Frank and the COOP (salad bar and pasta), which is nice for consistency but not necessarily for variety,” Pudalov said.
Hutzley, Borfitz and Dawkins all emphasized that Chartwells is open to hearing the concerns of students so that they may best cater to their individual needs. Student interns related to sustainability and marketing will be added to increase student outlook.
“The [one] thing that Chartwells is very much committed to is communications and using social media to get the students to understand if there are specials, special dinners, special food and to get input back, so if there’s an idea or if there’s an issue, we’ll know about it quickly, they’ll know about it quickly, and we’ll address it quickly, but mostly—hopefully—new ideas that students might have,” Hutzley said.
Brofitz noted that the dining services website, the mobile app, a phone line and feedback cards are all ways in which student input can be used to improve the quality of the food service.
Hutzley hopes that students who are not on the meal plan might also choose to pay and eat up the hill, in addition to faculty members.