Studentsgrill food vendor

Tracy Ellingson

University student John Cahoy wanted to know how ARAMARK Corporation, the University’s potential food vendor, would alter his diet next year.
Armed with questions for ARAMARK representative Thomas Saine, Cahoy, an Institute of Technology sophomore, attended an open forum on Tuesday sponsored by the Minnesota Student Association. The forum at Coffman Memorial Union, which drew about 20 people, provided students an opportunity to hear more about the private food vendor the University will likely select to manage its food operations for the next 10 to 15 years.
“I think that more students should get involved in this process since they’re all being affected,” Cahoy said. “I’m assuming that ARAMARK is going to be chosen. So, under that assumption, now is the time to start influencing what is going to happen.”
Former MSA President Helen Phin said the forum was held for students who wanted to tell the company’s representative what kind of food service they would like. “I think students are just looking for convenience. They’re looking for a vendor that understands the life of a student,” Phin said.
Saine has said the corporation, which would provide retail, dining, catering and vending services to the University, could bring food services such as Baja Tortilla Grill and Leeann Chin to campus.
In addition to the forum, MSA also sent out a survey to campus organizations to gauge what students want in a new food vendor. Phin said that the surveys were designed to assess the distinct needs of the University’s student body.
“ARAMARK has experience with other colleges,” Phin said, “but I suggest that they not be too presumptuous that they know what to offer the University.”
The company manages food services operations for about 400 colleges and universities across the United States, including Boston University and the University of Chicago.
Saine said ARAMARK has been conducting extensive marketing analyses of the University community to assess its needs.
“We do this often,” Saine said. “Our philosophy is that we (manage services) to fit your needs,” he said.
More food variety, longer hours, weekend food service availability and consistency of food quality across campus were some of the most common survey responses. Students at the forum echoed most of the same concerns.
Joe Skupniewitz, an Institute of Technology sophomore, attended the forum to add his voice as a commuter student. Skupniewitz said the current University food service is inconvenient for commuter students because they cannot find food on campus past the late afternoon.
“If I had somewhere I could study, that I could get food at (late at night), that’d be ideal. That’d be a conducive learning atmosphere,” Skupniewitz said.
Though Saine could not guarantee that any of the student suggestions would be implemented, he did say that the company would provide a variety of dining experiences. “I think that there has to be a unique vision for each of these operations.”
Saine said that any national brands, such as Pizza Hut, would be used sparingly and only as a draw to bring students to local or regional brands that would also be available.
Amanda Perlman, representing the Student Health Advisory Committee, asked if ARAMARK planned to work with local businesses. “I’m very loyal to the (business) community and what it does for the students,” she said.
Saine said the University and ARAMARK could not duplicate the unique ambience of many local businesses such as the Village Wok. That ambience, he said, is what attracts many people to campus-area restaurants.
At a meeting later in the day, Saine addressed other issues while meeting with members of surrounding University businesses, including leaders from the Dinkytown, Cedar-Riverside and Stadium Village business associations.
Thomas J. Hughes, president of the Dinkytown Business Association, asked whether other local businesses would be able to enter contracts with the University. For example, Hughes, who owns Annies Parlour, talked about the possibility of having a malt stand.
Saine said that possibility exists if those businesses meet the University’s food services operation standards. Those standards would be determined when ARAMARK or another vendor receives a contract from the University.
Pete Goelzer, chairman of the Cedar-Riverside Business Association said the University’s plans, particularly the new Carlson School of Management and its planned food court, threaten to destroy whatever sense of community remains in his neighborhood.
“The Carlson school is like the new great wall of China between us and the East Bank,” Goelzer said. “It’s extreme effect is a screen that deletes the view of the Cedar-Riverside from the campus.”
Information from meetings and forums will be relayed to the University’s Executive Council and the Board of Regents in June.