Returning students are getting a taste of something new alongside freshmen this fall with the introduction of Knox’s new dining management company, Bon Appétit.
But rumors of the Fat Cave shutting down, concerns over changes to the Gizmo menu and confusion over where to find a fork suggest that not everyone is on board with the recent shift.
“To me, the transition has been very fast, which is not necessarily a bad thing,” junior Cortney Hill said. “But the little changes have made a big difference. It looks like a lot of the stuff you would see on Pinterest, and I’m not saying they’re bad—I just want to see more than that.”
Bon Appétit plans to provide much more than mason jars. Slated as an on-site restaurant company, it services over 600 college and corporate cafeterias, among them Google’s headquarters and the vegan-vegetarian Andrews University cafeteria. Knox joined the list last May when it offered Bon Appétit a one-year contract. They will follow the old menus this term as they assess resources and personnel, but intend to roll out their full plan during winter.
Executive Chef Jason Crouch sums up what sets Bon Appétit apart in three words: “Fresh, local and flexibility.” It’s a scratch-cooking, chef-led model that tailors itself to the needs of student populations, according to interim General Manager Kecia Tatman.
Bon Appétit’s guidelines mandate that at least 20 percent of their food come from local sources, defined as anything within a 150-mile radius or a day’s drive. They launched their Farm to Fork purchasing program in 1999. Sometimes they help area farms gain sustainability certifications, too, Crouch said.
These promises, along with a commitment to seek student feedback, sealed the deal for some members of the Knox community when the search for a dining management company began. Sitka Salmon Shares Chief Steward Nic Mink, a former professor of environmental science at Knox, helped a group of students organize meetings that raised awareness about Bon Appétit’s healthy offerings in 2011. He met with Crouch recently to discuss Sitka’s continued partnership with the cafeteria.
“I’ve come away with a very positive impression of how we are going to continue to build on Helmut’s successes … in enhancing access to local, sustainable food,” Mink said.
Two community forums were held last May, one for Bon Appétit and another for Sodexo, the rival contender. Students estimated that only about 20 to 30 students attended the event.
Hill was briefly introduced to Crouch, along with Tatman and Operations Manager Diane Welker during orientation leader training when they spoke with the group. “If this is what they said they can bring to the table, I want them to hold up their end of the bargain,” he said.
But he worries this conversation may not have been extended to the larger student body.
“I don’t know the new management,” he said. “It’s kind of like, we’re not getting to know them and they’re not getting to know us.”
Crouch wants students to see the people behind the brand name. “I think the biggest misconception is that we’re a corporation that is here to take over when in fact that corporation is just me, Kecia and Diane. We’re just three people that are here to do the best job that we can do and make the most amount of improvements.”
Former Vice President of Finance & Administration Tom Axtell sent a campus email following the final decision last spring, but no further efforts have been made to update students on the changes. Senior Diana Chavira, who has worked with Dining Services since her first term at Knox, was considering protesting last spring out of concern that staff members might lose their jobs.
The current staff is here to stay, but some members have concerns of their own.
“They’re not taking feedback into consideration, they really don’t tell us anything,” said Dining Services employee Heather Barcroft. “We’ve been here less than a month and we’re already understaffed. They are creating more work for us and a lot of it is impossible to get done with all the other work we have to do.”
Students voiced their own criticism over the feedback process. Addressing the empty comment board, a purple card appeared on the comment box this Monday that read “Read these please!” The following evening, a backload of comments were posted, stapled together and addressed by category. Students milled around in two’s and three’s, many disappointed by the new presentation.
But Tatman wants to connect with students beyond the board. “We are always available to sit down and talk because that’s how we know what the students want,” she said.
Hill hopes for the same for the campus community. “We’re progressing at Knox, so in order to progress there has to be conversation between both the students and Bon Appétit,” he said.
Reporters Shivant Shrestha and Sarah McCurley contributed to this article