Campus switches food service
Sam Tapper – Managing Editor
After 19 years, Chartwells, ended their contract with the university over the summer.
As students return, they can find a new look and array of options for dining on-campus.
“It wasn’t really that [Chartwells] pulled out of a contract,” Vice President for Student Affairs Tracy Tyree said, “but as it was time to renew the contract, the business conditions of COVID were very difficult, and we weren’t able then to enter a new contract, in a place that we could kind of be in a business agreement that we could agree upon.”
At of the beginning of August, the food service and facilities management company, Sodexo, began operating as Southern’s on-campus dining food service provider with an initial contract term of two years, replacing Chartwells, who had been in the same role at Southern since 2001.
According to Tyree, the university’s long-term contract with Chartwells had ended before last year, and from there, the two parties were on a “year-to-year renewal.”
While Tyree said this was strictly a “business decision” for both parties, she added that COVID-19 was related to the overall circumstance.
“I do think that [calling this COVID-19-based] is fair to say,” said Tyree. “If it were ‘business as usual’ it would have been more business as usual, but it was the circumstances of the business part of the partnership that led to a difficulty then to renew.”
The process of finding a new food service provider was not necessarily difficult, as there are only two other major national food service providers in addition to Chartwells: Sodexo and Aramark.
The university looked into both companies as a replacement for Chartwells, but after review and conversation with other Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, Sodexo, who also provides food service at Western Connecticut State University and Central Connecticut State University, was deemed the best fit.
“We had done a bid five years ago, and based on that experience, Sodexo was in a better place than Aramark to be able to match our model,” Tyree said.
One of the bigger question marks in the process of this transition was the job status of the former Chartwells employees.
According to Tyree as well as Sodexo’s District Manager Mike Ward, the workers from Chartwells were hired back by Sodexo, with only a handful electing not to continue their employment for reasons not directly related to the transition.
Despite the tight timeframe of when Sodexo first started to when students arrived back on campus dining services are up and running, with new stations, food options, layout and design.
While there are changes to Connecticut Hall related to COVID-19, many of the design changes come in the Adanti Student Center food court, as walls surrounding the various food stations have been repainted and remodeled to provide a more warm and inviting environment.
“When I shop, I shop with my eyes first, I’ve got to like what I see,” said Ward. “We thought that [the atmosphere] is just one piece of the image. Now, the aesthetics need to compliment the food, [aesthetic] doesn’t make the program. The quality of food and the products that we use have to be as inviting and as high-quality as the environment itself.”
Ward, who has been with Sodexo for 20 years, said overall, despite the quick turnaround, the transition has been a smooth one.
Even though Sodexo is still adjusting, Ward said there are more new services coming soon to make the experience better for students while also remaining safe, such as an option to order online.
“We’ve got some work to do to get our programs to the level that we expect of them, we’ve got some new services that we intend to roll out, but technology is kind of a baseline for a couple of those things,” Ward said. “We will have basically a mobile app where students will have an opportunity to pre-order their meals from the student center, in particular. If you’re coming in and you want a sandwich from Subconnection, you’ll be able to go onto an app and order that, pay for it, pick it up and away you go.”
The Student Center still offers sandwiches, rice bowls, and burgers. However, once students were able to try the food, many agreed Sodexo’s product tastes better.
“I think [the food] is good, it’s something different from last year,” said sport management major Cam Peters, a junior. “It’s better. It’s just something new, something that I’m not used to, so I like it better.”
Tyree praised the work of the Sodexo staff, from their readiness to adapt to COVID-19 protocols to their interaction with the student body so far.
Ultimately, Tyree said Sodexo will be a great addition to the university and its mission as a social justice institution, to which Ward agrees.
“Social justice is one side of that, sustainability, environmental awareness, those types of things,” Ward said. “I’ve been here a month, I’ve already reached out to two departments on campus: diversity and sustainability. We’ve had some really robust conversations about how we can partner with the various organizations on campus or the various departments on campus where we can complement efforts. Our ambition is to become a part of the campus, not to be just the food service provider.”