From Aramark to Chartwells: University to transition food providers later this year
As Central Michigan University hurdles toward the close of the 2021 Spring semester, so will Central Michigan University’s 25-year-old dining contract.
“This is the biggest contract that the university (has) ever done,” said Executive Director of CMU Auxiliary Operations, Cal Seelye.
In December 2020, CMU signed a 10-year deal with Chartwells, a higher education food service company. The decision ends the university’s contract with Aramark, a dining provider that CMU has worked with for more than 26 years.
“It has been our pleasure to serve the CMU community for 26 years," said Nikki Smith, district marketing manager for Campus Dining. "We are working to ensure a smooth transition to the new provider.”
Chartwells will take over in July of this year with promises of investment toward CMU eateries. But who is Chartwells, and why is CMU abandoning Aramark?
OUT WITH THE OLD
Aramark is a facilities and food services company headquartered in Philadelphia and began working with CMU in 1995. The university ran dining in-house before outsourcing dining to Aramark.
Seelye described Aramark as being good to work with, not only acting as an important part of campus but as an employer for the Mount Pleasant community. However, they do this while making Aramark sort of invisible to students.
“My goal has always been that people do not know that Aramark is our food service provider. We say 'campus dining,'” Seelye said. “When I started in this role, I kind of made people (think saying) 'Aramark' is like dropping the F-bomb in church. We just don't do it.”
The last contract extension signed between CMU and Aramark was in 2012, stating its contract would end or be renewed in 2022. This means Aramark’s contract is ending early, but its quality of service did not lead CMU to look elsewhere for a dining provider, Seelye said.
When CMU received Aramark’s 10-year extension proposal, the Board of Trustees suggested the university look for other bids and deals. With locations like the Down Under Food Court being unpopular and areas such as South Campus underserved with a coffee location, Seelye said CMU needed to rethink its food stores.
“(A refresh) is not why we chose to leave Aramark, it's why we chose to go out to bid,” Seelye said.
IN WITH THE NEW
This desire for a refresh is what made CMU interested in Chartwells, since the company was willing to commit money for renovations to CMU eateries.
“It was financial but not how you think it is,” Seelye said. “It's not how much money the university will generate off students. It's how much money (Chartwells) was willing to invest into the university to improve our dining operations on campus.”
Seelye said Chartwells committed $14.5 million into a new food court at the Bovee University Center, along with replacing and installing new food shops across campus.
But who exactly is Chartwells? They are a higher education food provider owned by Compass Group North America. They serve about 300 universities across the U.S., according to the company’s website.
Meredith Rosenberg, senior director of brand voice and digital strategy for Chartwells, said the company will begin the official transition on July 1 and make renovations over the summer.
“Chartwells will transform the on-campus dining experience ... to create a premier food service program that emphasizes quality, made-to-order food, menu customization, variety, value, student success and education, and forward-thinking innovations,” Rosenberg said. “These changes will be made throughout each dining venue, inclusive of the dining halls across campus.”
WHAT CHARTWELLS LOOKS LIKE AT EASTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY
While Chartwells is new for CMU, other Michigan universities are well aquainted with the company.
Two Michigan universities currently outsource their dining to Chartwells: Oakland and Eastern Michigan universities. Eastern in particular began its contract with Chartwells in 2016 for 10 years and extended it for an extra five years in 2019.
Greg Millard, manager for Eastern Eateries, said the university ran food services in-house before signing with Chartwells. With the switch came a rise in student approval of campus food.
Millard's statement is reflected in a 2018 MLive article. The article was written based on a survey conducted by EMU's Student Services before and after the switch. It found that student satisfaction with food value increased from 67.5 percent in 2016 to 72.9 percent in 2017.
However, privatizing food service at EMU was not something employees were thrilled about, Millard said.
“We were always joking when they brought in Chartwells, it's the best of a bad situation,” Millard said.