by Maddy Dillon, staff writer
The decision to extend Sodexo’s contract or switch to Chartwells will be made before the end of the semester. The new contract will be implemented either at the end of the current academic or fiscal year.
Chartwells, Sodexo, and Bon Appétit submitted proposals that included standard information about pricing and menus as well as information unique to Warren Wilson College, such as sustainability, work crew culture, and investment in the college.
These proposals were then reviewed by Liz Brace, head of the Food Service Advisory Committee, and members of the President’s Advisory Council. A decision was made to narrow the offer to Sodexo and Chartwells. Although Bon Appétit had a lot to offer, its plan would have increased costs by 40 percent.
Representatives from Sodexo and Chartwells were asked to give presentations to the community this semester. While the logistics of the presentations are still being determined, Brace hopes they will include a block of time of at least two hours in which community members can meet representatives and ask specific questions.
In preparation for the presentations, Brace hopes Sodexo and Chartwells will share information that would likely be of interest to the community, including crew focus, student engagement and retention, flexibility in food dollars and dining facility hours, menus and wellness programming, sustainability practices, plans for upgrades to the existing facilities and new construction, and staffing, including the rate of turnover in management positions.
The intent of these presentations is for community members to identify what they desire in food service. Chartwells and Sodexo’s presentations will be held Dec. 2 and 6, respectively.
Following the presentations the community will be given an opportunity to fill out surveys to provide feedback.
“We want the community to be involved in the decision process,” Brace said.
After the presentations are given, the President’s Advisory Council will meet again to discuss the community’s feedback and make a recommendation to President Sandy Pfeiffer.
The hardest part of the entire process for Brace is dealing with the fact that our current Sodexo staff is part of the Warren Wilson community.
“It would be different if it was a big university, but we have personal relationships with the [Sodexo staff] … I love those folks,” Brace said.
Switching to Chartwells would mean not only a change in the food but also a change in staff.
“If they bring in another company, people are going to lose their jobs, and I’m one of them,” Brian O’Loughlin, Director of Food Services for almost 20 years, said.
“But it’s not just about me … Len [Vertefeuille] has been here longer than I have … Brenda [Skaggs], Tammy [Adams], Osborne [Guy], [they would all lose their job, too]” O’Loughlin said.
The best part of O’Loughlin’s job is working with students.
“I have been in this business a long time, but I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t for the students,” O’Loughlin said.
Osborne Guy, Warren Wilson alum ‘98 and Sodexo employee, has similar sentiments.
“My favorite aspect of the job is training students,” Guy said.
Recognizing Warren Wilson as not your average college, O’Loughlin worries it will take a new company a long time to catch up to the way they are running things now.
“[Warren Wilson] is a very unique piece of business, it is going to take them a long time to figure things out I would think,” O’Loughlin said.
According to O’Loughlin, Sodexo has been working on its proposal for over a year now, with a focus on meeting the needs of the students. Through student focus groups, Sodexo tried to learn what students wanted out of their food provider. One of the student-identified issues was increasing the amount of local foods.
If Sodexo’s contract is extended, O’Loughlin is excited about the hiring of a Sustainability Manager that will work closely with the farm and garden and keep records of how much local food is being bought.
“We would have an open search for the position; it could potentially be a Warren Wilson grad,” O’Loughlin said.
Overall, creating a Food Service Advisory Committee to evaluate our current food service provider and to look into what other providers have to offer has been an educational experience for the community.
“This entire process is really an opportunity for the campus community to be deliberate about what we want,” Brace said.