Takeaway meals boost summer sales and community relations for Parkhurst at Chatham University

A series of appealing weekly meals offered to customers both on and off campus gives the community a summer treat and the dining program some extra traffic.

The dining program at Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus in Pennsylvania, which is managed by FM Top 50 company Parkhurst Dining, has created a way to highlight the capabilities of the dining program, promote the products produced by Chatham Eden Hall’s campus farm, strengthen ties with the surrounding community and make a little extra revenue, especially in the fallow summer months. Chatham’s Eden Hall campus, located on nearly 400 rustic acres in Pennsylvania’s Richland Township, is an academic community dedicated to sustainable living and the modeling of sustainable approaches to energy, water, food and agriculture, air quality and climate, and the interaction of natural and built systems.

Called Takeout With a Twist, it offers freshly prepared meals and meal kits using campus farm products and other local ingredients to both on- and off-campus customers, says Courtney Blood, general manager for Parkhurst at the university.

“In the spring of 2020, we were looking for innovative new ways to respond to the unfamiliar operating environment, which included dining room closures and restrictions,” she explains. “One of our managers came up with the idea to offer takeout family-style meals that had more of a catered feel. We did that on a small scale throughout the 2020 summer, and the rest of our management team added on to the concept and promoted it to our local communities starting last fall. Students could use their meal plans toward their purchase, and local communities and the public were able to purchase as well.”

This spring, with pandemic restrictions starting to lift, the takeaway program was extended to allow diners to stay on campus and eat outside at picnic tables or on blankets they bring in an event series called Summer Farm-to-Fork Market.

“It was a fun and effective way to offer something new to our campus community and to share a passion for food with the larger local community, who previously wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience it,” Blood suggests.

The meals incorporate products grown on the certified organic campus farm and are made in the onsite production kitchen at the Esther Barazzone Center Dining Commons and then transported to the open area around the Barn, an original structure on the campus that hosts catered events like weddings. While Takeout With Twist was all pre-order during the last school year, it is in-person first-come/first-served over the summer “because we want to encourage people to come to the campus and enjoy the beautiful scenery that is the Eden Hall campus and relax for a meal,” Blood says.

That is what seems to be happening, with most diners choosing to stick around, weather permitting, and they are mostly composed of off-campus customers as the school has a minimal on-campus population over the summer, so the dining program also gets some additional revenue it might not otherwise have been able to generate. Meanwhile, the events help rebuild relations with the community that had lagged with the pandemic-related restrictions.

An acoustic local music school was scheduled to entertain diners in August from a small stage on the grounds, and Blood says she’s looking to work with the university on a concert series for next summer.

The Summer Farm-to-Fork series takes place Thursday evenings through Aug. 12, with each focusing on a specific menu theme, such as regional barbecue, grilled pizza and traditional picnic fare. The food is available between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on the event days.

Here’s a closer look at Summer Farm-to-Fork…

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