College cafeterias aren't known for their "cuisine," but the University of Vermont plans to redefine dining at the new Dudley H. Davis Student Center. When it opens next fall, two faves - the Farmer's Diner of Quechee and New World Tortilla - will be permanent food fixtures. They'll adjoin the extensive "Marketplace" serving sushi, Indian cuisine, organic options and fresh bread. Brennan's Pub and Bistro, named after donors Robert and Carolyn Brennan - no relation to "the Coach" - will offer some local products, too: Bruegger's bagels and coffee from Speeder & Earl's. You don't have to be enrolled to eat.
UVM contracts with national food service provider Sodexho; in the past, that arrangement has severely limited the school's local buying options. To sell to Sodexho, farmers and specialty-food businesses have to jump through more hoops than when they deal with a grocery store or co-op. But since 2005, UVM has been working with the Vermont Fresh Network and area farmers to serve students more fare from local sources. Black River Produce, now Sodexho-certified, has become one of UVM's main purveyors. The University also gets veggies from Arethusa Farm in Burlington's Intervale.
With the Davis Center, UVM is taking another step towards sustainability by allowing independent restaurants to sell directly to students on campus. "It's unheard of for a national contractor to invite in local businesses to share the wealth," says Paul Bahan, director of marketing for University Dining Services.
So what happened?
Focus groups of UVM faculty and staff, community members and students were asked what kinds of food and services they wanted to see at the Davis Center. The overwhelming answer? Support local business.
Last April, more than a dozen vendors visited the current student center at Billings and "demonstrated their culinary prowess" Bahan reports. UVM then asked them to submit business plans - including detailed info about pricing, menu options and the company's commitment to sustainability and the community.
On December 15, UVM announced the chosen candidates. Farmer's Diner is particularly "environmentally conscious," says Bahan, and "they're very democratic in their pricing." The Diner offers a "traditional, seasonal diner-type menu," with 70 percent of ingredients coming from within a 75-mile radius. "We're very proud that they're going to be partnering with us," Bahan concludes. New World is "very committed to using Vermont products whenever possible," and "is an excellent value," he continues. A third, non-local selection, the WOW Café & Wingery, is a chain based in New Orleans. They'll work out of the Pub.
The Davis Center team is talking with Sakura about a "sushi concept" for the marketplace. "You wanted local dining options," Bahan boasts. "We've got 'em."