Students who regularly find themselves having to grab a quick bite to eat in the Woodbury Campus Center between classes or before they catch the bus will have quite a few new options this semester, as ARAMARK has spent the winter break renovating the dining area and rethinking their service.
Last Monday, ARAMARK opened for business and unveiled some new business partners. A Portland Pie Co. mini-location has opened up in the dining area, serving signature pizzas from the company’s menu, as well as breadsticks and salads. They will also be featuring a rotating selection of soups from Kamasouptra, another Portland-based company.
“What we wanted to do was bring in another local brand that would really stand out in the dining area and would compliment the already established relationship we have with Coffee by Design,” said Chris Kinney, the general manager of ARAMARK operations with USM. “We’re very excited for this new semester. Already people are smelling the pizza and gravitating toward the dining area.”
“This is such an awesome upgrade,” said freshman communications major Martin Braley. “I essentially live off pizza during the week, and Portland Pie Co. is so much better than the pizza they’ve had in the past.”
Right now, ARAMARK is putting out four pizzas at a time and selling by the slice.
“We’ll always have a cheese and pepperoni option and then rotate a collection of specialty pizzas,” said Kinney. “In the future, probably within the next month or so, we’re going to expand the counter and have six pizzas going at a time. What we’re really aiming for is more variety for the students.”
Along with more pizza, ARAMARK also plans to start offering some of Portland Pie Co.’s signature subs and sandwiches.
Throughout the first week of service, ARAMARK employees distributed samples to students, letting everyone know that they are in business and getting some feedback on specific kinds of pizza they’re choosing to serve.
“I think the HarborMaster is my favorite so far,” said sophomore psychology major Jenna Boyden. “I mean, barbeque chicken and bacon? How am I supposed to stay away from that?”
The only students that appear to be upset about the change are those who won’t have as much time to enjoy it.
“I’ve always had bad luck with things like this,” said senior history major Jacob Barnes. “Of course ARAMARK would decide to start serving the best food the year I plan to graduate.”
The only feedback Kinney noted receiving that wasn’t positive was students asking if ARAMARK was going to include a gluten-free option in their rotation, which they plan on starting next week.
As soon as it was decided that the mini-location would be built, Kinney and other ARAMARK managers have visited Portland Pie Co.’s restaurants to get to know the business and product. Since then, various ARAMARK employees have worked at the restaurant and others have been trained by Portland Pie Co. employees on how to replicate their specialty pies.
“It’s really been a great relationship to establish and they’ve been super business partners,” said Kinney.
According to Kinney, not only have pizza sales increased significantly, but the sale of their sandwiches has increased as well.
“We’ve had a lot of people this past week saying, ‘Oh, I had no idea they sold sandwiches,’ because Sandwich City was out in the dining area and didn’t stick out as much,” said Kinney.
This increase in sales means there have been more students in the food court, which means more lines and longer waits in some situations.
“Sometimes I’ve stopped in for lunch, but it’s just been crazy,” said undeclared freshman Jonathan Wilks. “I might be hungry, but I don’t have time to wait around when I have to get to class.”
With the increased business, ARAMARK has taken steps to reduce wait time, but they’re still in the process of implementing those ideas and solving new problems.
“We’re definitely experimenting as time goes on,” said Kinney. “It’s always something we’ve been thinking about, but it takes time to get these ideas into practice. We have to be fluid and be able to flow to wherever the students are.”
One of the ways ARAMARK has worked to reduce wait time is rethinking the stir-fry station in the food court.
“Stir-fry has always been popular with the students, but our time studies have shown us that it was taking 7 to twelve minutes for them to be served,” said Kinney.
Dishes at this station are now being made throughout the day so students are able to grab it and go, combining fried items with vegetables from the salad bar to create their own meals. This station is going to have rotating themes so each week has a new concept and completely different foods. Upcoming selections will include barbecued items and a celebration of Greek foods.
“We’ve got a lot of new ideas for this year and hope that we can continue to upgrade our service,” said Kinney.
After experimenting with the upgrades to the Woodbury food court, Kinney says it’s in the works to make changes to Gorham food services in the fall of 2014.
“We don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like yet, but we’re going to start figuring things out,” said Kinney.