FM's Best Concepts awards competition is designed to recognize and celebrate innovative thinking and practices in noncommercial foodservice. To select this year's winners, our editors pored over scores of entries before settling on a final list of winners.
In recognition of the immense variety onsite foodservice represents in terms of scale, available resources, operational requirements and inherent challenges, we honor multiple winners in each category with no hierarchical ranking.
The only exception is the Best of Show Award, where we have chosen to honor the excellence demonstrated by Purdue University Dining Services in reinventing the school's campus dining across the board.
Literally Bridging a Campus Divide
Winner: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Entry: Ram's Head Dining Hall, End Zone Sports Cafe & RH Market complex
Project Team: UNC—Ira Simon (Dining Services Director), Mike Freeman (Director of Auxiliary Services), Carolyn Elfland ( Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services); Claudia Scotty, Envision Strategies (foodservice masterplan); Chape Whitman, Ricca Newmark Design (interior/foodservice design); Eric Moss, Ayers Saint Gross (architect); Aramark Campus Services (foodservice management)—Evan Klingman (Resident District Manager), Bill Cunningham (Food Service Director)
Why it won: The Ram's Head/End Zone/RH Market complex is a spectacularly successful melding of multiple dining and retail venues in a single location.
Literally a unifying space in that it bridges a gorge that separates the two sides of the UNC campus, the structure encompasses a full grocery store (RH Market) complete with a Boar's Head deli, a residential all-you-can-eat marketplace-style dining center (Ram's Head) with five service platforms, an "ESPN Zone" style entertainment center/restaurant (End Zone), as well as a complete recreation center and a parking garage.
The multiple venues achieve several major goals: they create a retail dining environment in a residential board facility, create a dining and socializing destination point for the entire campus and they add a retail grocery option to the campus. The dining hall component, managed by Aramark, encompasses five distinct dining spaces through which student diners can pick and choose their meals, including a diner, a chop house, a salad/soup/ ethnic station, a bakery cafè and a pizza/Italian/deli station.
Melding Servery and Kitchen Into a Fine-Tuned Machine
Winner: University of California-Davis
Entry: Segundo Dining Room
Project Team: UC-Davis– Bob Smiggen (Director of Student Housing), Kate Scott (Design Director), Roy Benson (Associate Director of Facilities & Student Housing), Catherine Buscaglia (Project Manager-A&E); Sodexho Education Services–Sam Marotto (Senior Director, Residence Halls ), Brenan Connolly (Senior Director, Retail Operations), Brian Wadell (Senior VP); James Webb, Webb Food Service Design (foodservice design consultant); Jim Donahoe, Dewco (collaborative partner, foodservice design); Sasaki Associates, Inc. (architect); Howard S. Wright Construction Co. (general contractor); Kamran & Co. (equipment dealer)
The Big Idea: Segundo is an innovative combination of a back-ofthe-house cook-chill production kitchen and eight individualized, self-contained service platforms (including a dinner-only organic vegan station) in the front of the house. Each station has its own seating area and "personality," encouraging staff to consider it their own "restaurant." Meanwhile, the production kitchen, far from being a utilitarian "hidden" area, features bright colors, creative lighting and design touches designed to motivate production employees with a professionally designed workspace. The combination allows Segundo to menu a wide variety of food choices, each prepared in distinctive service platforms, while realizing overhead efficiencies for basic ingredient production.
Excellent, Not Extravagant
Winner: Prudential Financial, Newark, NJ
Entry: Gateway 3 Back Door Cafe
Project Team: Prudential—Ron Ehrhardt (Director of Food Services), Debra Murphy (Manager of Food Services); Eurest Dining Services—Don Nixon (Senior District Manager), Bernie Brewster (Regional VP), Will Chizmar (Executive VP); Phil Antiquo, Antiquo Designs; Steve Braun, M. Tucker Co.
The Big Idea: The Back Door Cafè is a great example of a dining department economically making the best use of the resources at hand to construct a new space that offers significant advantages over the previous one. In planning and construction, the project team took advantage of the attributes of the new space— high ceilings, lobby access and a full wall of ceiling-high windows—while limiting startup costs by redeploying as much equipment as possible from the old space (located elsewhere in the building) it replaces. For example, all counter sneezeguards, refrigeration and drop-in hot and cold wells are pre-existing units that were simply polished up to look like new, saving $180,000.
Streamlining the Lunch Rush Bottleneck
Winner: 1-800 CONTACTS, Inc., Draper, UT
Entry: Lunch Pre-Order System
Team Members: Byron Newton (Executive Chef), Evan Black ( program software), Bruce Christy (graphics)
Why it won: The Intranet-based pre-order system at the self-operated company cafè at 1-800-CONTACTS is able to efficiently deliver a wide variety of individualized, cooked-from-scratch lunches to some 350 daily diners within the standard lunchtime window with minimal staff.
Developed in-house, the system asks employees to go to the lunch menu section of the website—up to a week in advance, if desired—and make their selections. Then, they are asked to designate in which 15-minute window of the daily four-hour lunch service period (10:30-2:30) they wish to pick up their food. By limiting the number of orders for each 15-minute block of time and setting a cutoff time 15 minutes before each period in which an order for that time can be placed, the kitchen is able to regulate its workload and still prepare a wide range of high-quality, to-order dishes. These are tagged with the customer's name and set out freshly prepared at the predetermined pickup time.
A "special requests" module on the online menu even allows customers to customize their orders (extra ketchup, no tomatoes, light on the salt, etc.). All payment is automatically charged to a debit account at the time of ordering, making a checkout line unnecessary.
Big City School System Brings Efficiency to Lunchline
Winner: Akron Public Schools
Entry: iMeal Finger Scan Validation System
Project Team: Akron Public Schools—Debra J. Foulk (Coordinator, Business Support Services), Laura Kepler (Specialist, Child Nutrition Services), Mary Farkas (Specialist, Child Nutrition Services), Anna Weitzell (Specialist, Child Nutrition Services), Becky Johnson (Specialist, Child Nutrition Services), David James (Executive Director, Business Support Services), Mark Donnelly (Purchasing Agent), John Klingler (Telecommunications Specialist), Linda Pierson (Senior Systems Analyst); Bill Douglas, Douglas & Associates; Craig Beltz, Summit IT Solutions; System Technology Group, Inc. (hardware); Lunchbox (software); Sagem (finger scanners)
The Big Idea: Finger scanning is not unique in the K-12 segment, but the challenges posed by implementation in a major school system like Akron make the district's highly successful conversion to scanning a benchmark for other districts facing similar challenges, all while offering customers—both students and their parents—a highly efficient way to make and track meal accounts and purchases. Fully implemented in all 18 of the Akron system's secondary schools, iMeal facilitates checkout while tracking and documenting free and reimbursable meals through a virtually foolproof method of reading individual fingerprint scans.
Bringing Bar Codes to the Hospital Cafè
Winner: Stony Brook University Hospital, Long Island, NY
Entry: Barcode-based POS System
Team Members: Diane Carillo, MPH (VP-Hospital Operations), Suzette Smookler, RD (Administrator, Food & Nutrition Services), Paul Hubbard (Associate Director, Food & Nutrition Services), Kristin Berry (Assistant Director, Retail Operations), Linda Perrone (Food Service Supervisor), Judith Ortiz, Dawn Ryan
Why it won: Stony Brook's bar code POS system allowed its Marketplace Cafè to speed up the checkout line while ensuring greater accuracy, reducing carried inventory, making purchasing forecasts more accurate and direct order entry more efficient. The main driver of the change was a desire to speed up checkout lines, a frequent customer complaint on surveys. While about a third of the items sold are packaged products (bottled beverages, packaged snacks) that are already bar-coded, the project team developed its own system for in-house-produced items, especially high-velocity items like the popular parfaits and pre-packaged grab-and-go sushi dishes.
Sustainability Gets Its Day in the Kitchen
Wheaton College Executive Chef Marco Hettrich examines some local produce as part of Bon Appetit's "Eat Local Challenge" day
Winner: Bon Appetit Mgt. Co.
Entry: Eat Local Challenge
Project Team: Marc Zammit (Director of Culinary Support & Development), Maisie Ganzler (Director Communications & Strategic Initiatives), Shelia Turner (Director of Corporate Marketing), Jade Dalton (Marketing Coordinator)
The Big Idea: Bon Appetit's designation of a single day— September 29, 2005—in which all of its units were to prepare a lunch menu using as many ingredients as possible from local sources was of course a blatant publicity stunt, but a superb one.
For one thing, the single-day coordinated, nationwide event in one fell swoop highlighted—as no other promotional effort could have—the company's focus on using fresh ingredients as much as possible, the ingenuity of its chefs in finding and using those ingredients, and of course the benefits of using local product.
Some units were more doctrinaire than others—one even boiled down seawater from the nearby ocean to make locally produced salt, while another fermented local apple cider to use as a sourdough starter rather than resorting to commercial yeast—but all participated in some way. In the end, 190 Bon Appetit chefs in units from Maine to Washington State fed some 150,000 customers on a meal whose ingredients for the most part traveled no more than 150 miles from farm to kitchen.
Supporting the Client Mission
Where: Sodexho team at BASF headquarters complex, Durham, NC
Entry: BASF Innovation Luncheon
Project team: Lou Salvador (Area Culinary Specialist), Ruth Agron-Reynolds (Area General Manager), Phil Stapleton (Executive Chef), Elisabeth Bull (Area Marketing Specialist)
The Big Idea: More than a corporate pat-ourselves-on-the-back event, the Innovation Luncheon served to highlight biotechnology and its role in improving foods, which is a core business of BASF. The luncheon was held in an outdoor garden to highlight the connection to nature.
The menu featured a potato bar with upscale mashed Yukon Gold and sweet potato selections, a roasted vegetable display, wild salmon with mango papaya relish, Vietnamese lettuce wraps, a bruschetta bar and, for dessert, fresh berry parfaits topped with limincello cream and sugared almonds. Each buffet had educational information about a food item related to BASF's agricultural research. These materials not only served an educational purpose but allowed different BASF departments and employees to showcase their work with real-life examples.
Forging Stronger Institutional Ties
Winner: Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus
Entry: Buckeye Bash
Project Team: Jim Warner (Associate Director, Nutrition Services), Cindy Prezioso (Program Director, Sports Medicine), Mary Angela Miller (Adminstrative Director, University Hospitals), Julie Jones (Director, Nutrition Services), Ed Hoon (Assistant Director, Nutrition Services)
The Big Idea: A free opening game tailgate brunch, cooking demo, entertainment and educational event for thousands of Ohio State alumni headed to the football team's 2005 opening game (they won), the Buckeye Bash was more than a simple "feel-good" promotional event. It not only helped publicize the ties between the medical center and the university, but also initiated a partnership between the medical center's nutrition services department and two powerful campus bodies—the Alumni Association and the Athletic Dept.
At the same time, it also highlighted the value the nutrition services department provides to the institution. The event itself consisted of multiple tents lined along the main fan walking route to the stadium, including one featuring the Archie Griffin Cooking School (Griffin is an Ohio State football legend), where Griffin and Nutrition Services Director Julie Jones held a healthy cooking demo.
How to Warm Up a Vast Space
Winner: Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ
Entry: Student Dining Marketplace
Project Team: Rowan University—Drew Calandrella (VP-Student Affairs), Tina Pinocci (Associate VP-Student Life), Mark Wagener (Director of Housing & Business Services for Student Affairs), Blase Iaconelli (Project Manager, Facilities Planning), Russ Seagren (Director, Facilities Planning); Connor Architecture—Mark Connor, Robert Weir, Bernad Lappe, Amanda Cunningham; Sodexho Campus Services—Linda Geren (Resident District Manager), Tom Rosier (District Manager), Scott Hoover (Design & Development), Michael Divirgilio (Operations Director), Mike Quinn (Executive Chef); Burns Engineering–Mike Porter, Kyle Gandy; Iversen Consulting Group–Ken Iversen; Merrell & Gartaguso, Inc. (general contractor); John McCarthy (Project Manager)
The Big Idea: Rowan's spectacular reinvention of its campus dining hall produced not only an eye-catching and distinctive venue but took full advantage of the natural attributes of the space it needed to occupy without being defeated by them. It's not as easy as it sounds. The space offered such natural advantages—and daunting challenges—to the designer as 30-foot ceilings and two walls of floor-to-ceiling glass.
However, through an explosion of form, color and light, the designers tamed the vast spaces while exploiting their magnificence to full advantage. Meanwhile the six cooking platforms, each inhabiting a distinct environment governed by the architecture, proffer a vast array of freshly cooked (in front of the customer—the back-of-the-house is miniscule) food options emphasizing fresh, healthful ingredients.
A Large Venue Made Intimate and Inviting
Winner: Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA
Project Team: Virginia Tech—Rick Johnson (Director of Housing & Dining Services), Robert Coffey (Senior Associate Director, Dining Programs), JW Wood (Project Manager), Ted Faulkner (Associate Director, Dining Programs), Kelvin Bergsten (Manager, Dietrick Dining Ctr.), Brian Grove (Housing and Dining Training & Project Coordinator), Chad Tyler Brodkin (Executive Chef); Tom Ricca, Ricca Newmark Design (foodservice consultant); Stelios Xystros, MMM Design Group (architectural planner)
The Big Idea: D2's slogan is "Taking Traditional Dining to the Next Level," hardly simple in a football-field-sized (almost 93,000 sq.ft.), centrally located space that is a popular meeting spot for more than 9,000 resident students.
The $6.5 million renovation consolidated two large serving areas featuring traditional serving lines into a single space with free-flowing architectural design that easily accommodates large traffic flows—as many as 3,000 in a single two-and-a-half-hour meal period—and eight food preparation stations located within the dining area. The individually themed service points proffer an array of food choices, from Brazilian churrascaria and Mediterranean vegetarian/vegan to hot and cold made-to-order deli sandwiches and brick oven pizzas.
Making Design Support Menu and Mission
Winner: Citigroup Global Corporate Investment Banking complex, New York, NY
Entry: Citi Cafè
Project Team: Restaurant Associates—Charles LaMonica (Senior VP-Operations), David Ruede (VP-Design & Construction), Michael Gallagher (VP-Culinary),Victoria Vega ( VPOperations), David Clarke (General Manager), Steve Santangelo (Executive Chef); Citigroup—Amy Greenberg (Director),Thanne Dispenza (Project Manager), George Daniels (VP); Phil Antico,Antico Designs (consultant); Wayne Cohen, Phillips Group (architect)
The Big Idea: Citi Cafe was renovated to improve customer flow, accommodate and fully exploit a series of fresh food programs and open up and modernize the space by removing the barriers between guests and servers. So, the Cafè demonstrates a particularly impressive integration of environment and menu. For instance, the very popular soup station was expanded to allow for greater participation through a long curved space holding eight self-serve wells. The result: soup service went from 40 to 100 gallons a day.
Organic, But Familiar
Winner: Restaurant Associates at Central Park Zoo, New York, NY
Entry: Leaping Frog Cafè menu
Project Team: Restaurant Associates–Andrew Ziobro (VPOperations), Ed Esposito (Director of Operations), Michael Gallagher ( VPCulinary), Gina Zimmer (VP-Marketing), Sarah Beam (Marketing Manager), David Ruede (VP-Design & Construction), Delana Barry (Onsite Manager), Gill Matamoros (Executive Chef); Wildlife Conservation Society—Robert Moskovitz (VP-Business Services)
The Big Idea: The Central Park Zoo is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose mission encompasses conservation and environmental stewardship.The Leaping Frog menu balances culinary innovation, customer appeal and harmony with this core mission. It achieves this through a series of selections that emphasize organic, antibiotic-and preservative-free, locally grown, fair trade choices, while remaining familiar enough to meet the expectations of its highly diverse customer base, especially kids.
The menu includes organic choices like hamburgers, chicken Caesar wraps and a signature organic peanut butter and raspberry jam on chocolate bread sandwich, as well as trans-fat-free French fries, Seafood Watch-approved fish, shade-grown coffee and antibiotic-free beef and chicken. Environmentally friendly practices like the use of styrofoam-free products, the recycling of glass, paper and metal products and the utilization of bulk condiments complement the message sent by the menu and the educational signage.
Distinctive Healthy Menu Also Drives Participation
Winner: Sodexho at Grady High School, Atlanta
Entry: All-vegetarian lunch line
Project Team: Sodexho Education Services—Joe DeBlasi (Executive Chef), Susan Bertucci, RD, LD (District Dietitian), JoAnne DeShields (Resident District Manager)
The Big Idea: While all-vegetarian lunch lines are not entirely unique, even in the K-12 segment, Sodexho's operation at Grady deserves highlighting because it is an all-meatless, all-the-time serving line that has not only attracted non-vegetarians to its daily offerings, but was instrumental in boosting overall participation in the school cafeteria.
This was all done in a big city urban high school in a region not generally thought of as being overly receptive to vegetarian dining. The line operates on a 10-day cycle with two entrèes and three sides offered daily (all reimbursable under the federal School Lunch Act). Popular selections include a vegetable lo main dish with spring roll, meatless burgers and vegetable lasagna. Originally intended to placate a few dozen vegetarian students, the line now attracts as many as 400 (total enrollment is about 1,200) daily in a system where the average high school participation at lunch is only about 20 percent.
Variety, Flavor, Freshness Please a Tough Crowd
Winner: Kendal at Oberlin (OH)
Entry: Cafè, restaurant menus
Project Team: Lee Matson (Executive Chef) and culinary team
The Big Idea: Kendal at Oberlin's menus superbly meet the needs of a generally affluent, sophisticated and knowledgeable customer base with a wide variety of choices that complement various diet approaches while emphasizing fresh ingredients, healthful dishes and from-scratch preparation. For example, instead of using salt (except in baking), the kitchen utilizes fresh herbs from a garden tended by the residents. Seasonal produce is used as available, but all meals emphasize fresh produce, meat, fish and poultry, almost all of it cooked from scratch. The menus have also successfully migrated from the traditional eldercare model of formal, bulk-prepared meals into a cook-to-order and self-serve model with expanded choices and multiple service points.
A Talking Totem Pole That Takes Self-Orders
Winner: Vanderbilt University, Nashville
Entry: Ro*Tiki Cafè
Project team: Camp Howard (Associate Director/Executive Chef), Spiros Vergatos (Assistant Director); Jim Harding, Gresham, Smith & Partners (consultant)
The Big Idea: A perfect mix of quirkiness, convenience and labor savings, the tropical-themed Ro*Tiki makes an array of light, healthy, portable meal options available quickly and efficiently through a customer-friendly animated self-order system (located in a 13-foot talking totem pole!) that also allows customers to individualize their orders.
Ro*Tiki is located in a freshman dorm, where it serves the added-value purpose of giving first-year students—who must purchase lunch and dinner meal plans—another dining option in which to use their meal plans. The innovative menu emphasizes light, healthy, portable meal options that are easy to prepare using plenty of fresh produce and unique ingredients like fire-roasted apples and sweet potatoes, dried papaya, coconut and pumpkin seeds. So far, the outlet is averaging 615 meals a day, more than twice what was budgeted. The average check of $7.29 represents an 18% increase over the previous concept in the location.
Building a Theme Around an Irresistable Ingredient
Winner: Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Entry: The Chocolate Bar
Project Team: Helen Wechsler (Director of Dining Services), Michael Kann (Associate Director, Restaurant Operations), Chris Eiseman (Executive Chef), Patricia Ryan (Assistant Director, Purchasing), Michael Forcier (General Manager, McElroy Dining), Alton Jackson (Assistant General Manager, McElroy Dining), Khalid Karachi (Assistant Manager, McElroy Dining), Sharyl Thompson (Assistant Manager, McElroy Dining), John Connelly (Menu Systems Manager), Jake Mycofsky (Construction Project Manager), DiMella Shaffer (Architect Consultant)
The Big Idea: The Chocolate Bar takes a simple but highly desirable ingredient (chocolate) not traditionally viewed as supporting an entire onsite station concept...and proceeds to do so! Replacing an underperforming coffee shop, it sells specialty coffee drinks as well as a selection of chocolate-based sweets, ice creams, sundaes, candies and a signature chocolate fondue.
Full-service Respite Amidst the Lunch Rush
Winner: The University Hospital at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark
Entry: The Bistro Cafè
Team Members: Betty Perez (Director of Food & Nutritional Services), Bill Baglione (Campus Retail Manager)
The Big Idea: Cost constraints are a way of life for most healthcare institution dining departments, as is pressure for more revenue from retail operations. University Hospital scored a grand slam on both counts with the Bistro Cafè, which was opened in a previously non-revenue-generating meeting space within the hospital's Garden Cafè dining area. A 36-seat upscale eatery operated on a "shoestring budget," it constantly modifies its sandwich/burger/-salad lunchtime menu mix to keep up with customer tastes. Evenings, it serves as a popular catered event venue.
Leveraging the Water Trend
Winner: Aramark Corp.
Project Team: John Karangis (Executive Chef), Joe Mastroianni (Director of Marketing), Joe Morgan (Regional VP-Northeast), Robert Mound (Executive Chef), Cory Neff (Marketing Manager), Tom Waldron (District Manager)
The Big Idea: Integrating the public's great interest in freshness and healthfulness with its attraction to new beverage alternatives, AguaFresca offers Aramark units a fully developed but distinctive and high-margin beverage program that is also poised to take advantage of trendy new flavors and flavor combinations.
By fusing various seasonal fruit essences with spices and filtered water, the concept is supremely flexible and adaptable to different flavor trends. The first round of flavors—Granny Smith apples and Tahitian vanilla bean, apple and cranberry with cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, and Bosc pear and ginger— illustrate the possibilities.
As a bonus, because the concept uses pureed fresh fruit that ideally is over-ripe, it provides a use for product that has become unsuitable for the dining room, reducing waste.
Reinvigorating the Barbecue Concept
Winner: Restaurant Associates
Entry: BBQ Great American
Project Team: Michael Gallagher (VP-Culinary), Albert Lukas (Supervising Chef), Tim Buma (Supervising Chef), Marc Scheuer (Supervising Chef), Sam Souccar (Director of Merchandise & Style)
The Big Idea: While barbecue is a standard menu theme in onsite foodservice, BBQ Great American significantly refreshes the concept by incorporating authentic traditions from four regions (North Carolina, Memphis, St. Louis/Kansas City and Texas), each with distinct and notable flavor profiles. This not only expands the menu variety but, through signage and take-away materials, also educates customers about one of this country's greatest contributions to world cuisine.
Meanwhile, by highlighting the different regions' traditions, BBQ Great American emphasizes the integrity of its recipes, an important consideration for sophisticated corporate dining, museum and higher education customers that helps justify premium price points. A to-go option, which can be preordered online or at the station, provides a Home Meal Replacement component that adds incremental sales.
Filling a Need in a Growing Segment
Entry: Piccolo Bistro
Project Team: Mario DeLuca (Senior Director, Dining & Culinary Services), Natalie Rose Miller (Senior Manager, Marketing)
The Big Idea: With the population of culinarily sophisticated seniors growing every day, Piccolo Bistro fills a need for a branded retail concept that is specifically adapted to the eldercare environment in terms of menu, theme, operations and cost structure.
The Italian coffee house theme lends itself to upscale senior living environments by offering a casual dining venue where customers can linger and socialize while enjoying a menu of fresh coffee, indulgent sweets and an array of wholesome, simple dining fare such as handtossed salads, hearty soups and sandwiches made with premium ingredients. Three units are already open and operating, with three others in the design and planning stage that will open this year.