A’viands’ transition marked by growing pains, positive response


Brad Allen, Managing Editor

Any transition has its ups and downs, but many say they feels it’s overall been a great conversion into the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for A’viands, which began its food service contract through UW-Whitewater Dining Services on June 1.

Residential District Manager Gilbert Vilas said UW-Whitewater has overall been more welcoming to A’viands than other campuses where he has previously been employed.

United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota and Mount Marty University in Yankton, South Dakota were the two most challenging institutions, Vilas recalled.

The administrations of those institutions did not provide A’viands with adequate information regarding its food service contract, Vilas said, adding that the managers of the previous food service company had close friendships with many of the administrators, and those ties muddied the relationship between A’viands and the administrators, who were disappointed to be working with a new company.

“They didn’t want to make it easy for us,” Vilas said. “Not that they wanted to make it harder, but they weren’t as willing to share information with us.”

Fortunately, those issues have not carried over to UW-Whitewater.

“Here [UW-Whitewater], everyone has been very helpful when we’ve asked questions, and if they don’t know the answer, they can get us to people who do,” Vilas said.

Receiving ample feedback – mostly positive, but with a few complaints – from students and faculty has been the most helpful aspect in A’viands’ transition to UW-Whitewater.  

Sophomore Jared Bruttig said he was excited to learn in April that Einstein Bros. Bagels would be opening in the University Center in the Fall.

“I’ve been going there [Einstein Bros. Bagels] forever back home,” Bruttig said. “I’m a frequent customer.”

Bruttig said he feels A’viands has brought “a lot of variety” to campus, and he added that Chartwells offered “more limited options” while the company was under contract with UW-Whitewater Dining Services.

“Overall,” I’ve been very impressed [with A’viands],” Bruttig said. “There’s been a significant improvement.”

Freshman Andrew Wilkes said he was also impressed with the service provided by A’viands employees.

“I love Einstein Bagels,’ Wilkes said. “It’s a great place to wake up with some hot food in the morning.”

Wilkes added that the A’viands staff goes the extra mile to offer options for everyone to have their needs catered to. Wilkes has a soy intolerance, and he said he appreciates the omelet breakfast bar option in Esker dining hall.

Although Wilkes said he wishes more food options were available on the weekends, he has been excited to check out the various restaurants on campus.

The downside? Longer waiting lines form outside many of the on-campus dining areas during normal food service hours.

But that hasn’t seemed to deter students and faculty from visiting dining locations.

“They do a decent job with moving things along, and people are willing to wait,” Bruttig said. “They know they’re getting a higher quality product, so it’s worth it.”

The best strategy for navigating the longer lines is to plan accordingly in between classes and other obligations.

“You definitely have to plan for it in your schedule,” Wilkes said. “Restaurants are in high demand, so you have to allow extra time.”

Growing pains

Junior Ryan Caballero, a student manager at Einstein Bros. Bagels, said despite some initial growing pains, it’s been a smooth transition into the new food service system.

“Everyone is helping each other,” Caballero said. “It’s a collaborative team environment, kind of fast-paced, but also at-ease. Gilbert (Vilas) and everyone else are very helpful.”

“It’s hard work, but we’re having fun,” Vilas said.

Caballero previously worked as Graham Street, and he reapplied for a job with A’viands after the university announced its contract with Chartwells had expired in April. Since returning to work on-campus this Fall, Caballerro has picked up more hours to help manage a current shortage of student employees.

“A lot of our food is prepped in the morning and at night to keep us stocked for the day,” Caballero said.

With student employees getting adjusted to new food preparation processes through newer restaurants, errors are a potential, if not inevitable.

Several individuals complained during the first week that the new restaurants were not serving chicken wings. Some speculated this meant the item had been removed from the menus, however Vilas sought to alleviate that concern.

“We absolutely knew people wanted chicken wings,” Vilas said. “There just weren’t any in stock yet.”

Another initial struggle with getting acclimated to the new environment has been keeping up with online displays of nutrition and menu items each day. A’viands is looking to go digital first with these programs, Vilas said, but it’s been a struggle to maintain these features due to a shortage of employees.

Help wanted

A’viands has budgeted for a total of 200 part-time student employees and 79 full-time non-student employees, a goal which has not yet been met.  

“Many students haven’t applied for jobs yet,” Vilas said. “They’ll come, they just haven’t yet.”

Vilas said UW-W Dining Services is willing to work with students’ availability around their class schedules and other obligations.

Many students are only on campus during semesters between September and May, Vilas said, adding that when students return to UW-Whitewater after taking the summer off from work with UW-W Dining Services, “they know they still have a job when they come back.”

‘Double-edged sword’

UW-Whitewater is a large campus with students in classes at the same times, Vilas said, adding that it yields tremendous potential due to the size but also contributes to a busier environment.

“Most of our food is made from scratch,” Vilas said. “It takes longer to cook and feed people, and it’s busy. It’s a double-edged sword.”

Vilas said a core belief among A’viands employees is the preference to not compromise on food quality in the interest of time.

Chartwells just had a different approach, Vilas said, adding that no company has a 100 percent satisfaction rate.

Fresh methods

Employees at all dining locations on campus are aiming to offer some healthier food choices than were previously available, Vilas said.

Operations Manager of Residential Dining, Stephanie Mankowski, said this core belief is what inspired her to work with A’viands at UW-Whitewater. She previously worked for Chartwells at Drumlin dining hall, where she said she developed rapport with students.

“We’re trying to make the food quality consistent across campus,” Mankowski said. “That philosophy is what drew me to work with A’viands.”

Each dining location on campus has seen similar amounts of traffic, Vilas said, with the exception of a newly installed Sideline Café, located in the Williams Center, upstairs near the basketball court.

Meal plans

In contrast with the previous meal plans system used by Chartwells, A’viands has opted to allow students to use meal plan exchanges at any dining location or restaurant on campus, with the exception of between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day.

The reason for declining the use of meal plans during those peak service hours is to help balance things out for commuting students, who often do not have meal plans and might need to get through lines more quickly in between classes, Vilas said.

Deloitte Café, located inside Hyland Hall, is a member of a program allowing the location to serve products licensed under the Starbucks brand, according to the UW-W Campus Dining website.

Starbucks corporate management is currently conducting an analysis of Deloitte Café to determine whether UW-Whitewater would be able to sustain a fully operational Starbucks shop on campus.

Students can not currently use a Starbucks rewards program called Gold Stars, which allows customers to earn free menu items depending on certain numbers of purchases at Starbucks locations.

‘A little piece of home’

Vilas said A’viands loves hiring international students as well as American students. The managers on campus enjoy working with a diverse group.

“International employees are great teachers on food,” Vilas said. “Plus, there’s the chance for them to offer a little piece of home for others to come try and eat.”