After senior Michelle Yeboah found what she believes was a live maggot in her food from the Hard Knox Cafe last week, the Knox community has once again zeroed in on issues surrounding Bon Appétit and Dining Services.
“I was eating the steak and it just tasted weird but I ate like half of it. Then I noticed something on top of the steak and I just thought, ‘Oh no, is this what I think it is?’” Yeboah said.
After bringing her plate to cafeteria workers with the insect still on it, the chef on duty at the time took it into the kitchen to take a look. Following a period of about 20 minutes, Yeboah was called in to speak with the chef, who apologized, but said he was unable to confirm whether or not the insect was in fact a maggot.
“They knew it was a maggot in the steak, because he ripped through the steak to see if there was anything else in there,” Yeboah said.
For many students, this story was no surprise, as plenty took to social media to post about their own experiences finding insects or mold in their food.
“There have been three times where I’ve had mold on my grapes,” junior Jessica Petersen said. “Two of those times I just threw it away, but one time I brought it back to them because I thought they’d maybe want to check the other grapes. They just threw it away and were like, ‘here’s an applesauce.’”
For Student Senate president and senior Sofia Tagkaloglou, the issue of food quality that is currently drawing the collective ire of the student body is simply a symptom of a much larger problem.
“To us, [the food quality] stems from problems at the top because we don’t think we have the leadership we need there,” Tagkaloglou said.
Junior Leonard Monterey, chair of the Student Senate Dining Services committee, has been working with his committee members, freshmen Aleksandra Gicala and Carolina Hodgson, to compile a list of testimonies from individuals who work for Dining Services describing what they believe to be mistreatment by the management.
“We’ve provided evidence from 11 accounts – audio recordings of caf workers, student workers and regular students … we’re not talking about food quality here, we’re talking about legitimate issues with the work environment and how it’s not very Knox-like, to say the least,” Monterey said.
The purpose of this project, Monterey said, is to demonstrate the facts of the mistreatment of Dining Services workers in an undeniable way. To him, the issue goes beyond rumors to the reputation of the organizations involved.
Tagkaloglou has been working closely with Monterey and Vice President for Student Development Anne Erhlich to respond to student complaints about Dining Services as they try to ensure that student voices are heard on these issues.
After months of bargaining with the General Manager of Bon Appétit at Knox Diane Welker and Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services Keith Archer on specific issues that came up, Tagkaloglou and Monterey decided that they had to take a different approach, leading them to the decision to compile a list of testimonies.
“We felt like it was not enough to just have another conversation about the Clif Bars or the chicken tenders at Sunday brunch,” Tagkaloglou said. “We felt that [Welker] was really stopping progress from happening. We articulated that we expect big changes to happen: either a change of heart or a change of the manager. To me, I don’t know how a change of heart could happen that quickly …”
The biggest issue the Student Senate group sees now is the poor treatment and working environment for Dining Services workers – students and Galesburg community members alike. This first started when Bon Appétit first took over, Monterey argues, as Welker quickly disposed of several longtime employees in Knox’s dining services, such as Pinky Gibbons and Bobbi Helander. Gibbons had spent 49 years working for Knox’s Dining Services, while Helander spent over 22 years working here. Both have told TKS that they felt the new management of Bon Appétit in 2015 pushed them out the door.
However, Monterey feels that this is not a systemic problem with the Bon Appétit company, but rather with the management in Knox’s dining services, namely, Welker.
“Everyone’s been extremely dissatisfied with Bon Appétit, and I feel like partially, we can be dissatisfied with Bon Appétit, but more specifically we should be upset with the management,” Monterey said. “I feel like at least a change in management would improve performance and make people actually want to work here and that would in turn improve food quality. How can you take pride in your work when you’re always worried about how you could get fired or written down over nothing?”
To Hodgson, who works in the C-Store, it seems like Welker has consolidated too much power for herself and continues to operate in a way that ignores the consequences for the staff.
“Diane is always changing the rules, but she won’t tell us the rule changes. She always just changes them and yells at [C-Store manager] Patrick [Busch] and that’s how we find out,” Hodgson said.
Gicala agrees that Welker has been micromanaging too much this year, saying, “Before this year, each of the managers was making the schedules for their own workers, but now she took all of that responsibility and she can’t do it,” Gicala said.
This, Hodgson agrees, has been a massive inconvenience to the staff, with staff hours being inconsistent even just day to day.
To Tagkaloglou, this is just extra evidence that the main problems students see in Bon Appétit’s time at Knox are actually due to problematic management on the part of Welker.
“When you get into stuff about worker relations and the more recent concerns, those were all pointing toward the management,” Tagkaloglou said. “That just felt like we needed to just hone in on what the problem was, which is the fact that we’re not having a really efficient or supportive dining services environment.”
Takgalglou, Monterey and his committee made it clear to Archer in their most recent meeting that they expect Knox to act swiftly on this issue. They voiced their opinion that Welker is not the right fit for Knox and must be replaced. Additionally, they shared the testimonies in a unanimous way that make it very difficult to decipher who is speaking, while also coming to an important agreement on who would have access to the information.
“When we shared this with Keith and Anne, it was with the understanding that Diane would never see it, or that the management [of Bon Apptit] would never see it,” Monterrey said.
Originally, after Bon Appétit landed the dining services contract with Knox in 2015, Welker was meant to work with Executive Chef Jason Crouch. However, TKS was informed in May of 2017 that Crouch was no longer employed at Knox, which Archer subscribed to “issues unrelated to Knox College or the Knox College Dining Services staff.”
Before this school year began, Chef Joe Peterson was hired to replace Crouch.
“The new chef is wonderful. I’ve worked very closely with him a few times,” Tagkaloglou said. “He’s been very supportive and accommodating. The fact that these concerns still remain shows that this isn’t because of the chef and it’s not because of the workers.”
This has made it evident to Tagkaloglou that the issue lies in Welker’s leadership and she hopes that the Knox administration allows students to have a say in possible replacement candidates if that path is taken.
“When you think about it, the dean of the college, the professors, these are people who impact us and we get to help hire them,” Tagkaloglou said “It’s viewed differently and I think that students are articulating that they don’t want that to be treated differently because it’s something that’s very closely related to their experience at Knox.”
For Monterey, the topic of Dining Services and Bon Appétit has become a central part of his work with Student Senate. Over the course of the year, he’s watched the issues evolve.
“This is no longer just about the food quality, it’s about the general well-being and safety of the students and workers here,” Monterey said.
Teresa Amott, Ehrlich, Welker and Peterson did not respond to emails from TKS requesting comment on the subject. Archer declined to meet until later this week.