Abayasinghe: ‘I want to win your business’

Food for a changing customer demographic

Chris Abayasinghe, director of Food Services, has a story to tell about the launch of University Catering, and the theme is that “It’s a fresh start. A whole new day.”

It’s a re-set for the entire department, he adds, offering the opportunity to cater meals to a changing customer demographic.

“The goal is for us to be more responsive by increasing the quality of food, offering better service and being good stewards of the University’s resources.”

The story — and major changes in catering that have come to fruition this year — have been several years in the making. Those changes will, Abayasinghe notes, shape the future of Food Services on campus for generations to come.

It began last year with the relocation of catering from the North Dining Hall to a revamped Center for Culinary Excellence (CCE) in the building, located on the far north side of campus, formerly known as the Food Services Support Facility—a move that potentially may lead to the long-anticipated renovation of the North Dining Hall.

“The CCE gave us the infrastructure to execute consistently,” he says. “Now we have a dedicated facility for sourcing, producing and delivering food. The infrastructure improvements are investments, allowing us to take advantage of quality, local ‘fresh justin-time’ food.”

Purchasing has been consolidated to select vendors, allowing the leverage of partnerships and an increase in local purchasing. In support of both sustainability and efficiency, food is now delivered directly to campus eateries rather than being delivered to a central storage area, then reloaded and sent out across campus via truck.

“The improvements to catering reflect our pursuit of being best-in-class. It’s about how we continue to promote a culture of service excellence across campus.”

University Catering now offers a variety of options. Streamlined casual catering—lunches for meetings, seminars, student groups, etc.—are handled by our own Au Bon Pain Catering. “Place an order at 8 a.m., and we will deliver lunch for a meeting,” Abayasinghe says. “I want to win your business.”

New, cutting-edge menus

While catering menus still feature popular favorites, Executive Chef Donald Miller and his staff have been working hard to develop a new core menu and lots of new offerings, while retaining customer favorites.

“We’ve changed philosophies a little,” Miller notes. “All our food is fresh—meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables. Nothing frozen. The new kitchen allows us to prepare food as close to event time as possible. We couldn’t do that at North Dining Hall. Sometimes we were competing for oven space between catering and student dining.

“Now we can establish a level of quality both with the food and in presentation of food. Our team is trained to execute these items at the highest possible level. We’ve also elevated our dessert offerings. It’s all about paying attention to detail.

“For example, all of our buffet entrees now feature complete course presentations in the chafing dishes. Our chefs now pair the appropriate fresh vegetables and starches together with the main entrée to complete the meal with an enhanced visual presentation.”

With options for casual catering, retail units, such as Subway for the value-conscious, and now elegant high-end catering, there is a wide range of food service options available for any type of campus event.

Pricing is competitive. But one of the most important points, Abayasinghe adds, “What we return (financially) helps support the academic enterprise of the University. We want to be your caterer of choice.”

This story was originally published in NDWorks.