On-campus dining changes with switch from Sodexo

Sept. 14, 2014

Eleanor Skelton
[email protected]

Kombucha, anyone?

Last spring’s transition from Sodexo’s contract food service with the university to UCCS Dining Services altered menus, food options and student employment opportunities.

Mark Hayes, director of food services, collaborated with Russ Saunkeah, executive chef and associate director of culinary services and former general manager under Sodexo, to develop the new system.

Hayes believes the transition will last anywhere from one to three years, and that the more sustainable focus of dining services is linked to the expansion of the Recreation Center and the development of other healthier alternatives on campus.

Dining services nutritionist and associate professor Nanna Meyer believes in local, sustainable food.

“I think that part of a self-operated system and part of why we wanted to switch is to provide better food to the students and not just healthy food, but Colorado-grown food, local food,” she said.

Meyer defines the whole state as local, and believes that going local can boost the economy and connect local farmers with UCCS.

“You’re part of a network that tries to eat more sustainably, eat more locally. You live with the ups and downs, and you become more compassionate about the people growing your food and listen their stories.”

Menu changes

Hayes indicated that most of the current diet options on campus are now locally based.

“We have a prime vendor, we use Sysco, which is the same company that CU-Boulder uses,” he said. “It’s a state requirement, we need to have a prime vendor. They have quite a bit of local products, too.”

Dining services uses the UCCS greenhouse when available, but said that “when we get a delivery from the greenhouse, it’s about [a table top size]. It’s not a lot.” But Hayes explained that the greenhouse offers “really good herbs, lettuces, we should have squash coming out anytime now, tomatoes.”

“Going to the farmers’ markets is not cost effective. If you’ve been to one, you’re not paying wholesale prices, you’re paying retail. We’re going to be looking at working with some of the local farms as we move forward.

One issue is that the school year is not during the best growing season. Foods are limited to items such as root vegetables and winter squash.

“So when students are here, there’s not a lot available. There’s some available, but it’s much more limited just because of the seasons. I had the exact same problem in Wisconsin. Same thing, summer was great, you might get a little bit into September maybe to October and it kind of drops off,” Hayes said.

The menu is still under construction.

“A couple things we’re changing on the menu next week here,” Hayes said. “A couple of items aren’t selling as well or they’re seasonal like tomatoes, so we’re going to be moving probably the Caprese Salad off the menu.”

Other options, such as a beet salad, will replace menu items that are not in season.

“We’re adding a new spinach salad, we’re going to add some specialty burgers, different toppings,” said Hayes. “And actually, we’re trying out some raviolis, but we don’t like how they are working. It’s not gonna make it. We wanted another appetizer.”

“We wish we could have tomatoes all year round, but we can’t. We have really good tomatoes in the summer and the fall, and we would like to get them from here,” said Meyer.

Meyer believes that illustrating the local availability of food helps to educate students about growing seasons.

Specific Site Changes

Tonne Passalacqua, the retail dining manager for Clyde’s, Café 65 and the four coffee shops, joined UCCS Dining Services two months ago.

“My vision here is to really expand our food offerings to the students. We want to give them healthy choices, sustainability is extremely important to me, to teach, to educated, to pay it forward.”

Passalacqua explained that every menu item needs to be something that you can duplicate and easily teach to staff members.

“We make a lot of the things from scratch,” said Passalacqua. “Our burgers are grass-fed Colorado products.”

Hayes explained that the beverage options are more available during all seasons.

“We have a couple of Colorado wines, unfortunately they are very expensive wines, so we have some other house wines, but we have I think about 21 bottled beers, give or take one, from Colorado,” Hayes said.

The three tap beers are from Colorado Springs, and Bud Light and Coors Light are the only domestic beers served.

Brew Dr. Kombucha tea sold at what used to be Jazzman’s is below 0.5% alcohol, which Hayes said is still legal to sell to those under 21. Several local Colorado-based kombucha brands were tested, but none of them were chosen.

Menu options have also changed at Café 65.

“The sub station is mostly a duplicate of what it was last year,” said Hayes. “Pizza is entirely different. We’re doing made to order single pizzas, a lot more fl atbread style, which have been really popular.”

Kassy Prescott, chemistry graduate student, has been eating on-campus since 2009.

“I don’t think there’s anything I miss. Once they put in the salad place, that made me really happy. That’s my favorite thing,” she said. “And in general since Sodexo has left, I’ve been much much happier with the food and the service.”

Morgan Pinto, another chemistry graduate student, has been eating on-campus since 2008. “I think the food tastes better, is healthier and cheaper,” he said.

The Lodge has also seen change.

Bee Viwatkuy, a freshman biology major, enjoys the healthier options but is unsure about the cooking style.

“I feel like the staff needs to work on how they make food because a lot of the food is really salty.”

Sophomore computer science major Tyler Dibb believes this year’s menu is improved.

Rebecca Bogardus, the manager of the Lodge cafeteria, was unavailable for comment.


Freshman chemistry major Kari Hattavaugh, noticed one glaring issue in the options.

“There’s not much opportunity for people who have issues with eating certain food. I’m trying to do glutenfree, and it’s more diffi cult here because you’re just stuck eating salads.”

Gluten-free bread is one of the options that was cut during the transition.

“We could [offer it],” said Hayes. “We haven’t had a request for it yet, so when we start getting them, we could have it back.”

“We are using Old School Bakery, which is down at Ivywild,” added Hayes. “It’s not a gluten-free facility, so we’re really trying to use their buns, their breads. Unfortunately there’s not a really good gluten-free focaccia, and our flatbreads are on focaccia now from Old School, so there’s not a substitute for that unfortunately.”

Hayes said they would have to source gluten-free bread through another vendor. Due to food safety regulations, students cannot bring in their own gluten-free breads to the restaurant.

Hayes explained that food services has already purchased a freezer and small refrigerator that will be solely for gluten-free storage in anticipation of student needs.

“Definitely food allergies are a big concern, we just have to figure out what to substitute for what.”

Student Employment 

Hayes made a similar transition at the University of Wisconsin five years ago, and one of the key factors is student employment.

Under Sodexo, there were only about 40 student staff, and there are currently around 130.

“It took me the last time I did this about until spring break to get rid of all the temporary staff we had to hire and add enough students. I’m hoping it doesn’t take that long.”

Hayes explained the issue is not filling the positions, but filling the shift needs correctly.

“It’s less about open positions than open shifts. So Wednesdays, for example, Café 65, yesterday we were short about 30 hours upstairs. And the Lodge was short even more and that’s just on a Wednesday.”

The coffee shops on campus are not currently open on weekends due to the staffing shortage, and the fourth section of Café 65, which will be a burrito station, has not yet opened due to the same reason. “That is the priority right now is getting to that staffing problem.”

Sean’s Place does have current openings posted.

“We probably need another 10 students for the various locations and probably about another 20 to 30 to assist in catering because that catering is every time of the day, every day so we really need a large number.”

Hayes has been working shifts himself due to the staffing shortage. This prevents him from focusing on other issues such as menus, nutrition and meeting local farmers.


With the transition, the names students knew have vanished, and Hayes has had to substitute temporary generic names for all food service locations.

The decision making was quite a process.

“In April, we had a coffee naming committee with students,” said Hayes. “We had some faculty, some staff and it was a good maybe 15 people. It was at least 100 names. So then it was voted down to 5, and we sent them to leadership to the vice chancellors and the chancellor.”

But the committee came up with an option that was already in use.

“The one that we picked is being used elsewhere so we couldn’t use it, and the other ones weren’t as good, so we haven’t had a name, so actually we have to do another naming committee.”

Current names include Coffee@UC, Lettuce Be, BarrTrail Grill, Bluffs Deli and Elevated Flats.

“It’s like now there’s no name quality to it,” Marcus Wright, sophomore visual and performing arts major said of Coffee@UC, “So the whole place feels almost a tiny bit bland because it doesn’t have that little title factor.”

“The idea with the coffee was to have whatever name and then it was going to be at UC, at Dwire, it was going to be the same name [with] the location so we wanted to brand it and have it all over,” said Hayes.

The new committee will start by naming the coffee shops, then the Café 65 stations.