Aramark Falls with Autumn Leaves

Chartwells Higher Education West Region
Photo via Chartwells Higher Education West Region

Returning Portland State students may notice some changes around PSU’s dining options this fall. American foodservice company Aramark finished up its contract with PSU in June 2017, and although Aramark was also in the running for receiving the new contract, Chartwells was selected to take over.

On campus, Chartwells’ services are known as PSU Eats and stretch from the dining hall in Ondine, to Branford’s Bean in the Library, to the food court in Smith, and more.“We try to brand accordingly with the different campuses we’re on,” said Jason Boss, Resident District Manager of PSU Eats.

PSU Eats emphasizes sustainability and accommodation for dietary restrictions. “There’s a huge population of vegetarians and vegans on college campuses to begin with, and Portland is above and beyond that,” Boss said.

Chartwells is a subsidiary of the British multinational food service company, Compass Group. Compass Group has over 20 other subsidiaries, according to Boss. Among those is Restaurant Associates, which made headlines in 2015 when the company’s employees held a strike to protest what they perceived to be non-living wages at the US Senate Kitchen.

In the past, Aramark, made headlines for its alleged mistreatment of workers nationwide. In 2014, a former executive chef for Aramark at PSU sued the company for $800,000 after facing alleged age discrimination by Aramark manager Timothy Kellen.

In 2015, cook and  president of the Aramark AFSCME Union Local 1336, Nicole Stroup, expressed that PSU Aramark workers were joining 15 Now, a campaign to secure a 15 dollar minimum wage in Portland. An employee for nine years, Stroup said she was living in her car after her hours got cut that fall.

“During slow times, we can work with MODA and make sure our employees get as many hours as they usually do,” Boss said.

“We actually had employees who left because they didn’t want to make the transition and then came back to work for us because they heard such good things about the company,” Boss said. “I practice what I preach… I try to get to know each person’s name throughout that. I encourage my management staff to do that, I have 140 employees. I know a good portion of everybody’s names.”

In 2012, the PSU Vanguard reported that Aramark had not been submitting reports required to hold the company accountable for the 30 percent locally sourced food purchases required by their 2007 contract, causing students to question the locality of options offered at PSU.

This year, Chartwells committed to locally sourcing 20 percent of their purchases. “Ideally we’re shooting for more than that,” said sustainability director Mark Harris. “We’re so lucky in this area to have a bounty of local food— that cuts down on the carbon footprint.”

Part of Harris’s job is looking for local products to use through PSU Eats. “This is the fun part of my job, [local vendors] are wanting to make their businesses grow, and we buy such a high volume of product that if they can get into somewhere like PSU, a lot of times it can make or break their company,” Harris said.

Chartwells also conducts waste audits in and out of the kitchen, according to Harris.

Chartwells relationship with PSU is set to stem beyond the realm of food service provider. The company’s contract ensures a $12.6 million investment return to PSU, which can already be seen in the form of renovations to places like Viktors Smith’s Kitchen, and Smith’s Place.

The company also offers several student internships, and donates to the food pantry on a near-daily basis, according to Boss. Beyond that, Chartwells is offering other amenities.

For example, students will soon be able to vote on a new station for PDX Local in the Smith food courts, which is currently serving ramen. “That’s going to change about six times a year,” Boss said, “we’ll put together two or three different concepts and send it out to the student body for them to be able to vote on it.”

“As a company, such as Chartwells, Compass—anybody who partners up with campuses— you have to accommodate to appease your masses. You’re not going to serve the same food day in and day out,” Boss said.

Chartwells does a market comparison every year to make sure costs are on par with the rest of Portland’s food scene, according to Boss.“We don’t want to price-gouge anybody. You have to be price conscious because everyone is on a budget,” Boss said. In the 2014 Food Insecurity Assessment, 59 percent of respondents experienced food insecurity during the 2013-2014 school year.

In line with an increase in tuition this year, the cost of meal plans—required for all on-campus freshman— has risen. The economy plan, which cost $924 per term last school year, is now up to $1009 per term. In the past decade, meal plan costs have risen across college campuses by 47 percent, according to Time.

Time attributes this partly to high-income students prioritizing high-quality food as an aspect of their school experience. “People have become more and more worldly when it comes to food,” Boss said.

Federal data from the 2013-2014 school year also reveals that public universities across the nation made 2.3 billion dollars in revenue off of auxiliary services like campus dining.

Portland State is part of the nearly 40 percent of universities in the US who rely on private dining companies, like Aramark and Compass Group, to provide food services and build profit.

“Our vision [is that] we work for the school. We work for our company— sure, they’re the ones who sign our paychecks— but we work for the school,” Boss said.

This article originally appeared in the print edition of our November 2017, issue.

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