Owen Ranft has taken on the role of director of dining services, having already made some changes to food offered in the Student Union. Four new options have been introduced since his arrival in February, including Sono, Chi Thai, Create and Wicked Spoon Smoothies.
Sono offers Latin themed foods, such as tacos, burritos and quesadillas, which were often demanded by students, according to Ranft. Chi Thai offers various Asian dishes, including sushi. Wicked Spoon Smoothies brings fruit and yogurt based smoothies to the cafeteria, while Create allows students to customize their own wraps, salads and subs.
Create was a redesign of Mondo Subs, which did not have the salad or wrap option. Ranft felt that Mondo Subs did not appeal to enough people to justify keeping it as it was.
“Mondo Subs was great for one group of people,” Ranft said. “But then there’s another group that you’re leaving out. I’m just trying to give everybody as many options as possible.”
When Create was first introduced, only wraps and salads were offered, leaving nothing to properly replace what Mondo Subs had offered. Ranft spoke to many students and many voiced their preference for subs in their responses.
Ranft has been in the food industry for 39 years and has been an employee of Compass Group — the company that owns Chartwells — for about 15 years. He has previously worked at Stony Brook University, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Central Park Zoo, NY Stock Exchange and various museums.
“In my daily life — in these places I’ve worked — I’ve studied what kind of food people like,” Ranft said. “I think I’ve spanned all groups.”
The former director, David Crump, had been in charge of dining services since May 2009, when Chartwells was first contracted to serve on campus. Crump introduced many changes including Nathan’s Famous, which was determined by periodically conducting preference surveys.
The surveys are conducted by hiring some of Crump’s own staff and students to have faculty and students answer questions on an iPod touch. They are administered three to four times a year and shape how dining services are today.
“We don’t want to assume what students and faculty want,” director of administrative services, Stephan Aiello said. “Any decisions that we’ve made have usually come from those preference surveys.”
Crump brought much more community outreach that wasn’t present before Chartwells began serving students, according to Aiello. He earned a promotion, which led to the opportunity to work at Purchase College. Ranft intends to continue in that regard, both with surveys and speaking to students regularly and directly.
Although Crump has made changes to accommodate students who want healthier food options, some initiatives were short-lived because of low sales. As somebody who is conscious of his health, Ranft intends to provide healthier options wherever possible.
“If I wouldn’t eat something, then I wouldn’t serve it to students,” Ranft said.
There are still ongoing discussions on what other brands should be brought onto campus. Ranft has also shown interested in bringing food trucks and carts onto campus.
“The changes I’ve made in the Student Union are the easy stuff. Those were mainly menu and aesthetic revamps,” Ranft said. Bigger changes — such as another brand — will take time.
“I think Owen’s got some big shoes to fill,” Aiello said. “But he comes from a long history of food service experience. He seems very committed.”