By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
Lauren Rodda usually begins her 10 a.m. Bible class with a sausage burrito, cup of yogurt and bottle of water.
She uses her meal plan to purchase the trio three times a week at the Fatted CafZ in the Bible Building and not just because she’s hungry.
“If I don’t get breakfast, I don’t spend my meal plans, and I feel like I’m wasting money,” said Rodda, sophomore elementary education major from Carrollton. “It’s pretty convenient, but sometimes the lines are a little long.”
Rodda’s meal and countless other students’ breakfasts, lunches and dinners on campus would be impossible without the unobserved work of more than 200 Aramark employees on ACU’s campus.
Behind the scenes and usually in purple, ACU’s dining services employees work at any one of the 12 eating locations to create a food service provider that prides itself as being one of the best among campuses across the nation.
“We’re very competitive,” said Andre Allen, interim food service director. “We behave as if we are the best at what we do.”
Aramark serves 200 million meals annually to more than 400 colleges and has been ACU’s food provider for more than 20 years for an average annual fee of roughly $4 million.
Next to faculty and staff salaries, Aramark is ACU’s most expensive yearly expenditure, but ACU’s bill barely dents the net worth of the No. 1 outsource service company in the world; Aramark netted $261.1 million in 2006. In Abilene, Aramark feeds students at Cisco Junior College, McMurry University, Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene Christian schools and patients at Hendrick Medical Center.
And like all of its clients, Aramark’s objective at ACU is to embody and contribute to the university’s mission.
“When we are hired we understand the mission and values of our customer,” Allen said. “That’s why we’re called higher education dining now, to emphasize that we’re about the university.”
Top of the food chain
When it comes to ACU dining services, three people sit atop the food chain: Allen, retail manager Lex Hunt and catering director Jennifer Ellison.
The three split duties among the main departments Aramark supplies food for, and they all work together to make ACU’s dining facilities a quality experience.
“It’s important that we have attractive places to eat,” Hunt said. “Right next to academics, parents are worried about that.”
Allen oversees the Bean, Hunt manages the cafZs, retail restaurants and concessions on campus, and Ellison organizes and supplies food for numerous on-campus events.
“When we go into a school, we’re a guest; we’re working for them.” Hunt said.
If Aramark is the guest, Anthony Williams, director of retail and The Campus Store manager, is ACU’s host.
Williams is the university’s liaison and makes most of the food-related decisions on campus.
“My job is to make sure our provider is someone that doesn’t only meet our needs, but exceeds them,” Williams said.
ACU purchases all the manpower, equipment and expertise, and Allen helps make sure ACU is getting its money’s worth by confirming all prices and menus from the retail stores and in the Bean.
“Basically, what I do is make sure that freshmen and sophomores on campus using meal plans aren’t wasting their money,” Williams said.
Aramark’s role as the primary food provider on campus hasn’t been unchallenged.
At least twice and most recently in January, the food conglomerate has been put to the test by ACU, Williams said.
The university requested proposals from Aramark and a competing food service provider to weigh its options and choose the best deal.
ACU stuck with Aramark.
The majority of Olha Kryv’yak’s Sunday’s are spent asking one question: “Bean bucks or meal plan?”
When the Ukraine native isn’t in class or running for the ACU track team, she spends her time working at the Jelly Bean.
“Almost every weekend I’m gone, and when I come back, I work on Sundays,” said Kryv’yak, senior graphic design major from Novoyavorivsk, Ukraine, said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t have any time for yourself.”
Kryv’yak and 29 other international students work for Aramark under the international work-study program, and they do it for more than the occasional free meal.
“I send my money home – sometimes the whole check,” Kryv’yak said.
Like all working international students, Kryv’yak can only work on campus because she does not have a work visa necessary for off-campus employment. And she said she chose Aramark over another on-campus job because of the people, flexible scheduling and opportunity for pay raises.
“I would have dreams about the Jelly Bean,” Kryv’yak said. “I was typing prices and asking if someone wanted to used their Bean Bucks or meal plans.”
Although a majority of ACU dining services employees are non-students, Allen said between 40-50 students are working for Aramark at one time.
Most part-time students work during the night and most full-time Aramark employees cover the day shift.
“We got a decent mixture,” Allen said.
Robert Casky, Christian ministry major from Stockton, Calif., is the student manager of Java City in Barret residence hall and said he initially chose Aramark because of the better pay and stayed because of the people.
“Most of the customers are pretty loyal,” Casky said. “Starbucks is more busy than us, and people could just as well go over there to get coffee, but our customers always come back here.”
Casky oversees Java City and does all the scheduling for the retail coffee shop.
“I like that I can make the schedule,” Casky said. “Aramark pretty much gives me complete control really.”
Allen and Williams both say they love feedback.
Whether through online surveys, focus groups or personal interaction with students, feedback is key to Aramark meeting the students’ on-campus’ needs.
“I frequent the Bean,” Williams said. “To make sure I’m aware of any opposition we have and to make dining services better.”
And because of the feedback they have received over the past couple of years, ACU is planning a summer makeover for ACU’s dining facilities.
Although finals plans have not been released yet, ACU will start the first phase of construction by taking out the Hilton Room and replacing it with a separate food court filled with retail restaurants Chick-fil-A, Pizza Hut, Freshen’s Smoothies and a new Quiznos.
“I go [to Quiznos] when I’m not at work, so I know I’m gonna love it when its here,” Allen said.
In phase two, Williams said ACU plans to gut the Bean and redesign it so that it is a completely different dining experience.
Allen said it will be set up in a format where students can watch their food being prepared with fresh ingredients directly in front of them.
“The renovations will take it to another level,” Allen said.
Aramark has already responded to some feedback from students by improving and adding food to the current services offered. The long list includes: a vegan section in the Bean, an improved salad bar, the addition of homemade gelato instead of ice cream, the addition of barbecue options to the Bean Sprout and opening the Bean on Sunday nights.
But Williams is convinced the new improvements will take ACU’s dining services to a level it has never been before.
“I am confident it will not only be one of the better university dining facilities, but one of the better dining facilities in the city,” Williams said.
But no matter how much the food venues change, there will always be workers behind the scenes preparing Rodda’s next burrito and numerous meals for the hoards of students eating on campus.
And behind the scenes is where most workers would prefer to stay.
“We should be a seamless part of what goes on campus,” Hunt said.