By Angela Hennessy and Jackie Hong
Local produce. Longer cafeteria hours. Affordable meals that will be friendly to a variety of dietary needs and a menu that will include seasonal specials and cultural food items.
These are just some of the things that new food service provider Chartwells has promised it will make available to Ryerson students who have long yearned for better food at the campus cafeterias.
Chartwells has replaced longtime Ryerson partner Aramark and will now be responsible for sourcing local produce for its menu, preparing and cooking meals and serving food in Ryerson cafeterias.
Aramark, an international food service provider to schools, health care institutions, stadiums and arenas had been Ryerson’s food service provider since 1993. When its latest contract with Ryerson, signed in 2008, expired earlier this year, many students feared that the twenty-year-long partnership between the university and Aramark would be renewed.
But even though Aramark submitted a bid for a contract renewal, the U.S.-based company, which had become notorious for its expensive menu, poor food quality and charging Ryerson for profit losses, was ditched in favour of a three-year contract with competitor Chartwells.
Julia Hanigsberg, Ryerson’s vice-president of administration and finance, said that the university decided to sign with Chartwells because it will be more capable than Aramark in terms of providing students with better variety, healthier food, sustainable sources and competitive meal pricing.
“We were looking for a company who can work with us to develop an entirely new food strategy for Ryerson,” Hanigsberg said.
“Chartwells was the best choice for this direction… Students spoke and we listened. We understood that students really weren’t happy with what was being offered so we made changes.” Ryerson’s new assistant director of food services and executive chef Joshna Maharaj said that she is excited to take the university’s campus food in a new direction – one where students will enjoy and look forward to eating in Ryerson’s cafeterias.
“Students are going to notice fresher food available,” Maharaj said. “I’m going to be in the residences doing cooking demos too.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi1pH-_SN-0&feature=c4-overview&list=UUsC_SCgA56zYWgYwpcd6cyA[/youtube]
Food is just going to be a much bigger deal on campus this year.” Maharaj added that she studied the results of a survey sent out to students last year about their opinions about campus food and what changes they wanted to see, as well as suggestions from the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU). One of the biggest needs, she noticed, is food that accommodates a variety of dietary needs.
“We’re always going to have a very steady supply of vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free meals available,” Maharaj said, adding that halal meals would be available too. She also said that more “superfoods,” like quinoa salads, leafy greens, soups and whole grain breads, will be on the menus in the fall. In the near future, a wider variety of cultural foods including curries, shawarma, fajitas and noodle bowls will also be added. There will also be a focus on the seasonal ingredients from Ontario farms.
In addition, cafeterias will now be open later so students taking night classes will have access to campus food. Students will be able to give feedback on food during town hall meetings that will be held throughout the year.
The RSU conducted a student survey that revealed students’ unhappiness about Aramark, said it is “cautiously optimistic” about the change to Chartwells.
“We will be involved in the evaluation process over the next little while to keep the system accountable to students,” Rajean Hoilett, RSU Vice-President of Equity said, adding that the RSU’s survey and awareness campaign about the state of campus food helped bring “food to the forefront” of Ryerson administrators’ attention.
On top of the RSU keeping close tabs on the Chartwells deal, Ryerson administration will also be putting together a committee to help keep track of how well the new food services are working.
“We are looking for students who are passionate about this issue to sit on a committee that will help monitor how Chartwells is doing on campus,” Hanigsberg said. “We want to make sure student needs are heard.” Maharaj said that she will also be involved in making sure Chartwells does its best to meet its commitments to Ryerson’s students, but admitted that it will require an entire reworking of how food services at the university work.
“Our challenge is going to be to… really reroute and rethink the way we’ve been operating food services here at Ryerson,” Maharaj said. “[But] I cannot wait until… we get to a point where good food is going to live and breathe in a really beautiful and delicious way on this campus.” Chartwells was not available for comment on this story.