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Food For Thought looks to satisfy students

Spencer Brown

Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 11:04

parklandcafeteria

Photo by Chanelle Stokes/ Prospectus News

A Parkland student grabs a bite to eat in between classes at, Food for Thought, Parkland’s new food service vendor.

With Food for Thought becoming the new food service provider at Parkland, the college is encouraging students to really think about their next meal, literally. After several years of service from Chartwells, the college decided it was time for a change.

A formal bid process was conducted to decide Chartwells’ successor. The pool of possible replacements consisted of five companies. In the end, Food For Thought stood alone as the new head of Parkland’s food services.

“They really found us,” Russ Benson said. Benson is the company’s vice president, and as he will tell you, it was a match made in heaven.

“It is important to find an opportunity and finding someone whose mission matches our mission so we can forge a partnership with the same goals in mind. We don’t want to dilute our brand or modify our brand to win a piece of business,” Benson said.

For these reasons, his company has been welcomed to the Parkland community.

It appears that Parkland has done its research and was successful in finding a great addition. The students, however, are not necessarily aware of Food For Thought and the manner they conduct business.

Food For Thought is a woman owned, minority owned, food service company that has been in business for the past 29 years. Based out of Lincolnwood, Ill., they have multiple partnerships. In addition to five higher education partnerships, the company also has food service ventures with law firms and museums.

Benson made a mention of the company’s mission, a topic upon which he later elaborated.

“Our brand mantra is delicious food and gracious hospitality. Our mission is to serve high quality food from scratch sourced locally,” he said.

In conversations with Benson, the word local was a theme and defines the company’s approach to business.

“We try to buy 25 percent of our goods and services from local Illinois based farms or other purveyors,” Benson said. “Supporting our own community is really what sustainability means to us.”

The local theme also proved dominant when making employment decisions.

“In the spirit of supporting local, we hired all folks local,” Benson said. “They’re all brand new to the company.”

Food For Thought wants to bring a brand new energy along with this makeover. One of the goals is to significantly elevate the food program.

“Our food quality, our service quality, our standards will far exceed what was here prior,” Benson said.

A huge component of raising the quality of food is the attention to health.

“We understand that what was important to the student base was a healthier approach to food,” Benson said.

Part of the change is the calorie count that is listed after each item on the menu.

“We want to over communicate to our customers,” Benson said. “The calorie count, that’s important. People want to watch what they eat. People love it.”

Another addition the company has added to Parkland’s food services is a Food Symbol 101 Chart.

“We thought it was a different approach to come up with an icon system,” Benson said.

The chart lists symbols that tell which items have gluten and starch for example. These symbols are scattered throughout the food service area on different products for informative purposes.

This is especially useful if a student needs to avoid a specific ingredient for any purpose such as an allergy. 

Food For Thought’s next commitment was to a higher quality of service. Students are now presented with the opportunity to have their food served as fresh as possible.

“We want to cook as much as we can from scratch. Cook as much as we can to order,” Benson said.

This is opposed to the system Chartwells used. Chartwells cooked as much as they could to fill up the trays in the lunch area.

Food cooked to order compared to picking up food precooked could be considered a positive. However, there is a down side to this process.

“Speed of service is important,” Benson said. “But we need to understand if the customer is willing to wait in line for three to five minutes to have something freshly made to order. We’re hoping that’s the case here.”

It is a situation that will be monitored over time.

Food For Thought has promised standards that will far exceed the former food service provider for Parkland. A focus has been placed on pricing. Their current prices are noticeably lower than Chartwells.

“We do a market basket where we survey the local community and the local restaurants and see what the price points are,” Benson said. “We know who our competition is. We do an attentive analysis of what our competitors are charging and do our best to either be at that or in some cases try to be lower than that.”

These competitive prices can be seen at both of the food service venues available in Parkland. Gulliver’s Cafe, located near the flag lounge and computer lab, is stocked full of hot entrees, a salad bar, veggies, burgers, snacks and various other items.

Crust, which can be found across from the bookstore, has still different options. Here, the student can find numerous pizza and hot sandwich items.

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