Chartwells contract set to expire

By Ali DeRees

Oakland University’s contract with food service provider Chartwells expires in 2015 and bidding for the service is expected to begin later this year. The company has served the campus for the past 12 years.

During that time, they’ve not only provided dining and catering options for the campus community, they’ve also made some capital investments in the university.

According to the current extension to the 2002 contract, Chartwells paid $1.5 million in capital investments as well as a $1.3 million for renovation of Vandenberg Dining Center that was completed in 2005.

“The majority of commissions were paid up front,” said Richard Fekel, director of the Oakland Center.

Fekel said Chartwells contract expires June 30, 2015.

“Once the Chartwells contract expires, the university is required to go out to bid,” Fekel said. “It’s our intent to distribute a request for proposal to qualified companies interested in providing retail, residential, and catering services to the university.”

Fekel said he anticipates proposal requests for bidding in September 2014.

“Today the big national key players in higher education foodservice include Chartwells, Aramark and Sodexo,” Fekel said.

Aramark campus dining franchises include national brands such as Starbucks, Einstein Bros., Jamba Juice, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, and Subway. They also provide on-campus catering.

Sodexo provides services specific to universities in states such as Florida, Tennessee, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

The university’s partnership with Chartwells has had its growing pains, many of which are due to Oakland’s soaring enrollment rates.

One of the challenges has been the overcrowding at Pioneer Food Court.

“We’re at a point where we’ve outgrown our food court,” Fekel said.

He said that with the new housing building coming to campus, enhancements and refinements will be made to the residential dining plan.

Chartwells Resident District Manager Gerald Gatto hopes to continue working with Fekel as the OU campus continues to grow.

Gatto would like to see a full coffee shop and a sit-down restaurant implemented if the OC expansion provides enough space.

He is eager to continue doing business with the university.

“It’s more than that, it’s a partnership,” Gatto said.

Chartwells has 128 hourly associates, 40 of which are OU students. Two of the company’s salaried managers are OU grads, according to Gatto.

Gatto said he listens to all student suggestions and concerns and adjustments are made as necessary.

OU students have had a range of exposure to Chartwells, from working with their staff on catering functions for student organizations, to dining on their food.

Student Activities Funding Board (SAFB) Chair Phillip Johnson has had concerns with Chartwells in the past.

Johnson said SAFB had meetings with the company in order to obtain lower prices for catering for student organizations. Prices were lowered in 2011, as reported in The Oakland Post. The decrease took effect after Chartwells and an SAFB-prompted student focus group collaborated on suggestions over a period of three years.

As the leader of SAFB, the board that represents the entire student body, Johnson is eager to see Chartwells work well with OU students.

Fekel, who has years of experience with food service providers, said that “with any food service company, there are going to be issues.”

Brittany Hall, director of Student Program Board Annual Events, said she has had nothing but good experiences with Chartwells.

Being the events director, Hall plans events on a wide scale and needs a reliable food service company to provide excellent catering.

“Being that most of my events have been very large, I often work with high quantities of food and drink,” Hall said. “Chartwells has always gotten my order right and is always willing to go the extra mile to make my event the best that it can be.”

She has also been pleased with their service when it comes time to making decisions for large orders.

“Thus far, my experience with them has been pretty good,” Hall said. “I am always greeted with a smile when I walk into the office, and the workers are always willing to help me with orders if I am unsure of quantity, pricing, etc.”

Hall is aware that Chartwells contract will be ending soon and is fed up with all the rumors surrounding it.

“It irks me that there are so many rumors already going around,” Hall said. “These rumors range from Chartwells being kicked out the minute their contract is over to them getting a two-year extension.”