If you haven’t heard of Harvest Table, that’s a little bit by design.
“One of the reasons it’s been under the radar is because we’ve done a quiet launch over the past year,” says Mary Thornton, founder and president of the new division of Aramark. “We’re being very careful in making sure we understand the mission and vision of the potential partners for us in the marketplace and making sure our goals align.”
Currently, Harvest Table has partnered with six higher education accounts, including Wake Forest, Elon University and the University of Rochester. Things are expanding west, in a “thoughtful pursuit” of new partners. Some accounts already had Aramark for a management company; others were independent, Thornton says.
So, how is Harvest Table different? According to Thornton, it’s a more intent focus on what’s important to each partner institution, a more individualized approach.
“We’re an independent division, so that enables us to make decisions that impact our guests and partners at a more local level,” Thornton says. “At our core, we’re a group of culinarians dedicated to making sure our partners have fresh, local and sustainably sourced ingredients and translate those into food experiences for our guests that are authentic.”
The culinary side is guided by Culinary Director/Executive Chef Matthew Thompson, CEC, who seeks out partnerships with local food businesses to strengthen the culinary town-and-gown relationship at each account.
Chefs and cooks are trained differently as well, making more items from scratch and in closer tune with seasonality than a typical college operation. “Each partner’s executive chef has ownership of the menus, so we can truly hit seasonality and local procurement,” Thornton says.
Everyday operations of Harvest Table accounts are guided by five points: “It’s always chef-driven. That’s the most important aspect,” Thornton says. “Second, we make local easier. Third, we bring service to life. By engineering a deeper level with our associates and providing them accelerated training, we’re able to develop a higher level of guest experience through personalized service.”
Training is done through the American Culinary Federation (ACF), and the culinary brigade is the framework for work in the kitchen and also for advancement opportunities.
The fourth and fifth guiding points are the encouragement of entrepreneurship and wellness woven into the menus. Local entrepreneurs, often alumni of a college, are brought into the mix when Harvest Table sets up shop.
And don’t look to see “smart choices” or “healthy” or even “better for you” descriptors on menus from Harvest Table, though.
“We believe that well-being is universal, so you’re not going to hear us talk about healthy choices; that’s throughout all we do,” Thornton says.
The growing division has seen good results already through guest satisfaction surveys and employee engagement surveys, “and just general interaction with our partners on campuses,” Thornton says, adding that we can expect to hear more from Harvest Table as the year goes on.