Private food vendor starts talks with the University

Tracy Ellingson

and Nancy Ngo

The University’s lone food service candidate has proven it is smitten with the school, as it takes the first steps toward establishing a relationship with the institution.
For the next three weeks, ARAMARK Corporation will court the University by sending representatives to discuss the school’s needs and the advantages the company provides for meeting those needs.
An ARAMARK representative, Thomas Saine, told the Coffman Memorial Union Board of Governors at a meeting on Tuesday that the visits will allow the private vendor to evaluate the ways a possible food partnership could benefit different interest groups within the University.
“While we have had a lot of experience in the industry, we haven’t had experience on your campus,” he said.
The University has not guaranteed that it will contract with ARAMARK, but so far the company is the only vendor given the opportunity to meet with the various groups that would be affected if the company were hired. Such groups include University students and employees, as well as local businesses.
If contracted with the University, ARAMARK would manage all campus food operations, which involve retail, vending, catering and dining services.
Other schools that have retained ARAMARK’s food services include Clemson University, Florida State University, Boston University and the University of Chicago. In total, the company manages about 400 campuses and universities across the United States.
ARAMARK also contracts uniform and maintenance services in addition to food and nutrition operations. The University would only want to contract the company’s food services.
The board met with Saine to obtain general background information and ask questions about the company, which soon could enter into a 10-15 year contract with the University. With proposed renovations in mind for the student union, the board pursued the issue of how ARAMARK’s presence on campus might affect those plans.
“Our goal here is to try to develop a sense of community in the University,” said Larry Fonder, president of the board. “Coffman is kind of considered the hearthstone of the University. The main reason people come here is for food. That’s one of the main reasons we’re concerned.”
Saine assured the board that ARAMARK has considered alternative sites for the restaurants in Coffman so that renovations expected to take two years to complete will progress as scheduled. Then the company’s restaurant contractors would transfer permanently into the union.
“We need a short-term transition and long-term plan,” Saine said. “We’ve got all three.”
Fonder said that because the board’s mission is to develop a community on campus, Coffman Memorial Union needs to give students an incentive to use its services over those offered in Dinkytown and Stadium Village. “There’s no reason for that immense dependency any longer,” he said.
ARAMARK representatives will meet next Tuesday with students in the Coffman Theatre at 12:30 p.m. That meeting will be sponsored by the Minnesota Student Association. Another meeting is planned between the company and leaders from the business community at 3:30 after the student discussion.
Nancy Arneson, human resources director for Housing and Food Services, said the reason for the separate meetings is to allow different interest groups the opportunity to have their questions addressed.
“People have very specialized interests and need an opportunity to address specific interests and engage in discussion.”
Arneson also said that the food service meetings with the University will be different from the public food forums lead last March by Ron Campbell, vice president for Housing and Food Services.
“The structure of the meetings depend on the issues and size of the group,” she said. “Instead of just the large, open forums, we’re having specific meetings with groups with different interests.”
“We hope that we’re providing enough exposure for ARAMARK so that any member of the University or surrounding businesses will have the opportunity to see what ARAMARK is and what their plans are,” Arneson said.