Fried chicken billed as a combination of Chick-fil-A and Zaxby’s and fresh made-to-order salads will be among the new menu options when Elizabeth City State University’s Bedell Cafeteria reopens under new management.
Earlier this month, Philadelphia-based Aramark Corporation took over the food service contract at ECSU, replacing Reston, Virginia-based Thompson Hospitality, which had had the contract for the past 15 years. Thompson’s contract expired May 31.
Vice Chancellor for Finance and Business Lisa McClinton advised members of the Board of Trustees Committee on Finance, Audit and University Advancement of the switch in food service vendors last week. She said between new equipment and upgrades at Bedell Cafeteria, Aramark is expected to make a $2 million investment at the university.
According to McClinton’s presentation to trustees, one of the reasons a committee that included ECSU students chose Aramark is because it’s a “well-regarded firm with great local, regional and national expertise.”
McClinton described Aramark as one of the largest campus dining services in the UNC System, noting it just renewed its contract with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for another 20 years. The company also has dining contracts with more than a dozen other public and private university campuses across North Carolina, including East Carolina, Fayetteville State, Winston-Salem State, Campbell University, Wake Forest University and Meredith College.
The committee also chose Aramark because its tours of Aramark-operated campus dining halls “demonstrated clear alignment between their ECSU proposal and (their) execution” on those campuses. McClinton also said the company has a “demonstrated commitment and record of accomplishing outstanding customer service.”
Aramark also offered “a comprehensive financial proposal and benefits to the university” as well as “flexibility on key financial and partnership terms,” McClinton’s presentation stated.
Details about those terms were not immediately available. Asked about them later, McClinton said they would become available once the UNC System signs off on Aramark’s contract.
McClinton told trustees that nine food service companies bid for ECSU’s dining service contract, which itself was unusual because typically only two do.
“What I was looking for was someone who would partner with us, invest with us and make (dining service) a little bit better and bring us up what other campuses have, because ECSU students deserve what the other campuses have,” she said.
McClinton noted that campus dining is “very important because that is our student experience hands-down.”
“If we don’t get that right, we fail,” she said. “Students pay a lot to eat on campus. We needed to align with a partner with a successful record that we can get us what we need: provide high quality food and especially keep costs reasonable for our students.”
McClinton said her advice to contract bidders was clear: “If you can’t give us the same service as at Chapel Hill, you’re not the right partner for ECSU. Because there is no difference. We’re all in the UNC System.”
Aramark took over the dining service contract on June 1 and is currently moving in equipment and making other modifications to Bedell Cafeteria. Once it reopens, Viking Dining will be Aramark’s marketing brand at ECSU. It will be the name patrons see in the dining hall and the name on uniforms worn by service staff.
The company also plans to operate two “pop-up” retail stores within Bedell Cafeteria. One will be called Tenders Love & Chicken, which McClinton described as “Chick-fil-A and Zazby’s all in one,” and Greens to Go, which will offer fresh, made-to-order salads.
Aramark also plans to unveil a catering service at the university it’s calling 1891 Catering. McClinton said the company plans to host a public exposition in the fall featuring all items on its catering menu.
In another change, Bedell’s retail spaces will be open until 10 p.m. at night instead of 9 p.m. McClinton said she’s working to get that extended to 11 p.m.
There also will be a marketing campaign to get more members of the public to visit Bedell and eat meals, particularly lunch.
“That’s what we want,” McClinton said in response to a trustee’s question about whether the public would be allowed at Bedell for meals. “We want the community to come to our campus and eat. That would be amazing and would give us a revenue stream that we need.”
Asked if having the public at Bedell Hall would create any security concerns, Alyn Goodson, vice chancellor for operations, noted that ECSU has an adequate law enforcement presence during the hours the dining hall would be open. Both he and McClinton also noted ECSU is already “an open campus during the day,” so having members of the public visit the dining hall wouldn’t be unusual.
McClinton said in a university press release last month that the transition to Aramark would bring some changes to Bedell’s management but the university “does not anticipate any significant layoffs” of other staff. Current dining employees were invited to meet Aramark representatives to discuss positions with the new provider, the release said.