Colby selects Bon Appétit as new dining services provider

The Palo Alto, CA based on-site restaurant company, Bon Apétit Management Company, was recently announced as the new dining services provider for Colby. The announcement ended a longstanding agreement with current dining service provider, Sodexo. Bon Appétit was selected by a special advisory group which included students, faculty, and administrators.

Bon Appétit was founded in 1987 with the mission of providing quality sustainable food cooked from scratch. The company is one of the premier on-site food management companies and operates 650 cafés in 33 states for corporations, universities, museums, and specialty venues. The firm cooks all their food from scratch and is an industry leader in socially responsible practices.

As previously reported by the Echo in 2014, the College has been reconsidering its dining services contract for some time. Colby has contracted with Sodexo since the 1960’s and in June, the current contract will expire.

Architectural rendering of the Spa, courtesy of Bon Appétit.

Architectural rendering of the Spa, courtesy of Bon Appétit.

On January 27, students received an Official Notice from Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students James Terhune and Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Doug Terp. The food service industry has changed dramatically over the past 20 years representing a shift in focus towards healthy and sustainable food. The College viewed the contract expiration with Sodexo as a unique opportunity to reevaluate Colby’s priorities for on-site dining.

Six firms submitted proposals, however only three were invited to present on campus: Bon Appétit, Sodexo, and CulinArt. Bon Appétit emerged as the leader throughout the proposal process. The special advisory committee reviewed the written proposals, all-campus presentations, and recommendations from current clients.

Five students served on the committee which was chaired by Terp. Mara Badali ’16, Class of 2016 Co-President and member of the SGA Dining Services Committee, in an interview with the Echo, commented that the College’s priorities centered on improvement to retail dining options and catering services, working conditions for dining services staff, consistency, authenticity, quality and diversity of food options, and attention to dietary restrictions.

In an Official Notice announcing the switch to Bon Appétit sent to students on April 28, Terhune and Terp stated, “In the review of proposals and presentations by multiple companies, Bon Appétit’s proposed program emerged as the leader for its focus on food quality, variety, local sourcing, and healthy, from-scratch cooking techniques.”

In an email to the Echo, Bon Appétit District Manager Kelly McDonald commented on Bon Appétit’s commitment to sustainability and healthy cooking, saying, “Bon Appétit’s companywide Farm to Fork policy requires that at least 20% of ingredients come from small, owner-operated farms and ranches within 150 miles from our kitchen.”

Since 2000, Sodexo has been making a concentrated effort to purchase locally grown and produced foods. They recently announced additional initiatives, such as the Maine Course, an expanded local food sourcing program.

McDonald also expanded on Bon Appétit’s midsize sourcing for meat, poultry, and fish, stating that, “producers of meat and poultry within 500 miles, which must carry a third-party humane certification” and that through their Fish to Fork program, all fish must be “local and sustainable defined [sic] for wild and farmed seafood.” The firm also has general standards that it plans to implement at Colby, such as “not using rBGH in milk or gestation crates in pork production.”

Tim Gallagher ’16, a member of the special advisory committee, Class of 2016 Co-President, and SGA Dining Services Committee member was impressed by Bon Appétit’s pitch. In an interview with the Echo, Gallagher commented, “my overall impression is that it is sad to see senior staff move on, on Sodexo’s side…but with regards to Bon Appétit, they have a well developed and tested catering program. He continued, “[Bon Appétit] fully understands Colby’s values and commitments to community, sustainability, and local food, and all of those together make them an exciting candidate.” Throughout the process, Bon Appétit was flexible and met all of the College’s demands such as maintaining workers benefits and meeting budget restrictions, according to Gallagher.

Currently, all hourly dining services workers are employees of the College. According to McDonald, Bon Appétit plans to offer employment and transition all current hourly workers after they complete the hiring process. McDonald stated in an email, “[Bon Appétit] is currently scheduling one-on-one appointments with employees to reassure them and explain how the transition will work when it comes to their benefits and vacation time.” She continued, “[Bon Appétit] will of course be doing a lot of training prior to the July opening, and again before the academic year begins in the fall.”

Throughout its presentation, the company referenced its ability to provide exciting options for culturally and ethnically diverse food. According to a presentation provided to the Echo by Bon Appétit, the firm plans to alter the theme of each “residential dining café.” Dana will focus on international food; Bobs (Roberts) will be athlete centered and focus on providing healthy peak performance food options; Foss will maintain its vegetarian and vegan theme, but will focus on locally sourced ingredients. Throughout the dining halls, Bon Appétit also plans to offer house-made soups and stews, made-to-order authentic dishes, and seasonally and ethnically inspired dishes.

Another area of interest for the College was a revamping of the current retail dining offerings. “Our plans are tentative at this point and subject to change as we continue our conversations with Colby to refine the proposed program,” said McDonald. She continued, “We’re looking to expand the Joseph Family Spa offerings with an all-day breakfast menu, fresh-grilled burgers and chicken, house-made fries, rotating weekly make-your-own bars (such as taco/burrito or baked potato), an expanded late-night menu, and a weekend crepe program (Planet of the Crepes).”

The specifics of the contract struck between the College and Bon Appétit were not released to the Echo. However, the College and Bon Appétit plan to focus on shared ownership of the dining program and plans to continue the dialogue to better understand the uniqueness of the Colby culture and community. Bon Appétit has a 99 percent account retention rate; however, the special advisory committee reinforced that the College wants a dining services program that supports the educational, professional and casual needs of students, faculty, and staff.