When the final numbers for the upcoming first-year/transfer class came in early June, David Lauffer, general manager of Bon Appetit, Albion College’s food management company, was surprised.
With transfer students, the Class of 2020 was at 440. The Class of 2021, with transfer students, stood at 575, a nearly 25 percent increase.
Coupled with a high Class of 2020 retention rate, this meant a 20 percent increase in meal plans. Not only would Baldwin, the Eat Shop and the Grinds need to provide more food, they would need the seating and the options to match.
“We knew Admissions was doing a great job,” said Lauffer. “We knew enrollment had gone up. But we usually see that grow steadily year-to-year. We didn’t expect this huge leap.”
So, Lauffer began to talk to Albion’s business office, the department Bon Appetit is contracted through. Unfortunately, Tim DeWitt, director of auxiliary services, wasn’t prepared for the upcoming class size, either.
With two months to accommodate students into food services before the school year, DeWitt and Lauffer made it a top priority to take as much pressure off of Baldwin Cafe as possible. Baldwin had become notoriously busy, especially during lunch hours, when many students, staff and faculty would have breaks in their schedules to eat. Adding over 200 more students to meal plans would put extra strain on the venue.
To relieve pressure, Bon Appetit and Albion expanded or created quick-to-construct satellite food services across campus. Each, listed below, was meant to have its own unique experience and be receptive to student needs, from upcoming grab-and-go sushi to formal dining.
The Eat Shop and Expanded Shelving
A 20 percent increase in meal plans also meant a 20 percent increase in Dining Dollars. Fearing long wait times and stressed staff, Lauffer did not want all of that money being spent on the Eat Shop’s grill items. So, Bon Appetit added more shelving and refrigeration for groceries, convenience store supplies and snacks. Instead of mozzarella sticks and sundaes, students could get their salt and sugar fixes on quick-grab options like pretzels and cereal bars.
The Grinds and Sushi
Stockwell Library’s coffee shop had always been the third, less-frequented Bon Appetit location on campus. But with the addition of meal replacement smoothies last semester, the Grinds took off.
Lauffer wanted to continue the momentum and decided to invest in baked goods. The zucchini muffins, lemon bread and cinnamon rolls are options he is proud of.
Lauffer and Albion also expanded the Grinds’ space. Working with library management, the circulation desks were moved towards the library entrance, cabinetry was built and two coolers were brought in. The sandwiches, salads and sides of the Eat Shop’s popular grab-and-go bundle options lined the shelves.
In the upcoming weeks, Bon Appetit will also hire in a speciality chef to serve sushi, giving the Grinds’ new space a sense of place. The raw fish’s short shelf-life, 24 to 36 hours, makes it difficult to work with, and Bon Appetit is still working with the Calhoun County Health Department to obtain proper licensing. Once up and running, Albion will be the only Michigan college of its size to serve sushi as a meal plan option, said Lauffer.
The Canteen and Food for Freshmen
Upwards of 95 percent of Wesley Hall’s 460 beds are filled, making it the highest density hall of students and meal plans alike. In response, Bon Appetit and Residential Life worked together to open up the front lobby desk for breakfast and lunch service as the Canteen. The lobby’s outdated furniture was moved out to make way for 12 new tables with chairs.
If a student were to wake up late, not have class until late morning or have too little time between classes to sit for a meal, the Canteen can accommodate, said Lauffer. Staples include coffee, juice and pastries for breakfast, and sandwich and salad bundles for lunch.
Business started slow – Lauffer thinks students didn’t immediately realize the food option provided – but now about 100 Albion IDs are swiped at the Canteen each day, over 20 percent of Wesley’s body.
The Dub Box Changes Time
“Baldwin is busiest at lunch,” said Lauffer. “That’s because everyone’s on a time table. The faculty and staff have a lunch hour and then they have to go back to work. There’s a condensed period between 11 ‘o’clock and 1 ‘o’clock where Baldwin is at its busiest.”
Placing the Dub Box, the purple and gold food trailer, in front of Baldwin for lunch was meant to not only lighten the cafe’s crowd but encourage outdoor seating and become a positive campus tour sight. Two employees are also able to work a full shift, making their own food on the spot.
Mary Sykes Room Rental
Starting September 19, the campus community can reserve the Mary Sykes Room in Upper Baldwin and be served a three-course meal for a meal swipe. The 45-seat space can be used for a study date, romantic date, a talk with professors or simply a gathering of friends.
Monday through Friday, a chef will choose an entree to partner their soup, salad and dessert. Each week’s meal will be advertised in advance on Bon Appetit’s website or through its menu email list.
Food in the Future
Although the Ludington Center is open to the public, there is still undeveloped space on its west side. Bon Appetit is looking at different concepts for a future food service venue that accommodate both meal plan users and the city community.
But what if Albion were to enroll another class the size of this year’s?
“One of the finer things my father taught me was, ‘The truth is very efficient,’ and I’m telling you I do not have all the answers right now for next year,” said DeWitt. “If [Admissions] delivers, to this institution, another class in the 550 [range], we will again have to think about other alternatives.”
If another large class of first-years and transfers were to enroll, DeWitt and the business office will look at two options. One is to expand Lower Baldwin. Another would be to make significant investments into Upper Baldwin to create a Lower Baldwin availability and atmosphere.
While quick satellite additions to food services were meant to take pressure off of Baldwin, DeWitt wants to keep the cafe as a center of Albion and its food services. Emphasis on satellites can detract from the intimate experience Baldwin creates.
“What I think Lower Baldwin does is that I think it creates a wonderful atmosphere for engagement. I think it creates a wonderful area for students to go ahh and talk aloud and eat and enjoy company,” he said.
DeWitt wants to have students continue to break bread together at Baldwin, not just grab food from a station and make a break for their next class.
Lauffer just wants to be sure that Bon Appetit will always bring memorable experiences to the campus.
“We’re really proud to be offering more and more residential food services because we want living in Albion to be great,” Lauffer said. “I know that students don’t choose a college because of a food service – or at least they better not – but while they’re here, we want them to love living in Albion.”
Photos by Beau Brockett Jr.