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Operation Success:  University Center (Chicago)

Operation Success:  University Center

University Center does it all: This one-of-a-kind residential hall in downtown Chicago serves multiple colleges and universities in the area, including DePaul University, Columbia College, National Louis University, Roosevelt University and the American Academy of Art. In addition to its touted dining hall, University Center features apartment and suite rentals, summer housing, a full-service conference center and more, all in the heart of the Windy City.

Zenobiyan (Zee) Bright is the senior director of dining services at the bustling facility that serves approximately 1,400 students with meal plans. The biggest challenge (and opportunity) for this group, he notes, is staying on top of trends and offering a wide variety of menu items to appeal to diverse dietary needs and preferences. Unlike most foodservice operations, University Center needs to accommodate multiple schools with different schedules, priorities and dietary preferences.

“Every school is different and it’s always a moving puzzle in foodservice to adapt,” Zee shared. “We do our best to cater to everyone, from athletes to artists to specific dietary needs and preferences by staying on trend.”

University Center’s success story centers around:

  • An annual survey of students that provides feedback on overall operations and offerings. Zee and his team also talk to students on a regular basis to get their opinions and are always willing to add items to the menu and remove others based on feedback.
  • The best chef in the business. Chef Larry Posen has exceled in foodservice for 45 years by keeping up with the latest trends and incorporating them into menus. He is a legend in the industry and at University Center.
  • On-site samples. Zee says he and the students appreciate when partners like General Mills visit and sample products so they can gather feedback from students on the spot. Recently, General Mills Foodservice offered samples of Yoplait Single-Serve Yogurt, Trix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal snack bars, and Pillsbury Fruit Variety Scones, all of which were well-received.

General Mills Foodservice team recently visited University Center, to sample various products and gather student feedback.

  • A focus on transparency. Zee and his team keep food allergens and dietary preferences such as vegan and gluten-free top of mind and are transparent about ingredients to keep students safe and satisfied. “Their great menu has so many choices and they truly go above and beyond to be transparent about what they are serving,” said Joshua Fallis, customer account specialist for General Mills Foodservice in the Chicago area, noting that they use call-out cards front and center that list every ingredient in each dish. “I have always been impressed with their operations.”

Call-out cards placed by menu items identify ingredients and potential allergens.

University Center was an early adopter of the hands-free bulk cereal dispenser featuring a variety of student-favorite cereal brands.

Zee says there are some tried-and-true items that area a mainstay on the menu: cereal, yogurt and cinnamon rolls! All are critical components to the menu and ones they rely on General Mills to help bring to the table to keep University Center diners coming back for more.

Joshua Fallis and Michael Campana, both customer account specialists from General Mills Foodservice, and Zenobiyan (Zee) Bright, senior director of dining services at University Center, at the recent sampling event on campus.