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Former Dalloway’s Coffeehouse operations manager comments on past relationship with Sodexo

| Friday, October 4, 2019

Saint Mary’s Student Government Association announced it will be working on re-opening Clarissa Dalloway’s Coffeehouse sometime in the near future, potentially collaborating with Sodexo, the food service company at the College. As part of the long-standing contractual agreement with the College, Sodexo, formerly Sodexho Alliance, is the sole food provider allowed on campus.

“Sodexho is the exclusive food provider for Saint Mary’s College,” the Catering and Food Services Policy from the Saint Mary’s Employee Handbook states. “Sodexho assumes responsibility for feeding students and catering College events. Sodexho also assumes the liability for providing this service.”

According to the handbook, “Food may be brought to an event by a college employee or student for an internal event … if that event is strictly for College employees and/or students. Internal clients, external clients and outside caterers will not be permitted to use kitchen facilities in the Clubhouse, CYBER Café, Haggar Center, Stapleton Lounge/Conference Room, Spes Unica, or in the Dining Hall.”

During her years as the operations manager at Dalloway’s, Katie White (’07) said she and the rest of the student board struggled to maintain a working relationship with Sodexo.

“We were constantly battling with Sodexo,” White said. “And that was a really difficult relationship to manage because Sodexo would not allow student workers to serve food or coffee.”

White said this dynamic was introduced when Dalloway’s moved from its original spot near the Church of Our Lady of Loretto and Holy Cross Hall to its current location on the Avenue. During construction, a full kitchen was included in the new Dalloway’s.

“They built a whole kitchen because they’re like, ‘Oh, well, now we can have food here,’” White said. “But because we could have food there, we had to have it staffed by a Sodexo person instead of just student staffers. That was a big problem, and it was something that was constantly a source of friction.”

Upon the opening of Cyber Cafe, now called 1844 Grill, Sodexo stopped sending workers who previously staffed Dalloway’s to the coffeehouse, White said.

“They didn’t want to have to staff it every single night,” she said. “So while it was open every night my freshman and sophomore years, by junior and senior year, when the new student center came on and Cyber opened, Sodexo basically stopped staffing it except for Wednesday nights, and then whenever we could beg them to open it. So that was a big problem.”

This dynamic possibly contributed to the phasing out of Dalloway’s in the years after her graduation, White said.

“And I wish we had had more support from administration in kind of talking with Sodexo about this,” she said. “We were kind of left to our own devices negotiating with Sodexo. So we obviously have no good negotiating power, and then as soon as we leave, [Sodexo] then can change whatever they want for the people that are in those positions after us. So I think that was a really big problem.”

Jim Risacher was officially named the interim general manager of Sodexo at Saint Mary’s Sept. 23, after former general manager Kenneth Acosta resigned due to health reasons.

Risacher said the exclusivity clause that exists within the contract between Sodexo and Saint Mary’s was put in place as an insurance measure and to save the College money.

“Number one, the vendor they’ve secured has liability insurance for the food they serve on campus,” Risacher said. “Number two, they know the expectations of the University better normally than an outside vendor. The exclusivity clause is there because what normally happens is [the College] gets a better deal price-wise, and depending on the contract, [the College] may share in those profits from the catering, as opposed to if you go to an outside caterer which is not recognized on campus, you lose that ability to make some money from them to help pay for other things.”

Risacher, who has 40 years of experience in the service industry, said he has worked with student organizations in the past to operate on-campus coffee shops.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Risacher said. “My understanding here that [Dalloway’s] was closed because it had low sales, and wasn’t supporting the cost that was being put into it, including the labor and food costs and things of that nature. And that’s why it was closed. That’s what I was told.”

Running a coffeehouse incurs a considerable cost, Risacher said.

“In my experiences, I know the students want someplace on campus to hang out,” he said. “You know, a lot of times it just — you want someplace that you have internet access, you can plug in, and you can talk to your friends, or you can study. When you start adding food to those venues, then you have additional costs. First question is who’s going to pay for that cost?”

While Risacher said Sodexo works at the will of the College to provide financial advice and fill food services, the company is always open to conversation with student organizations.

“We’re here to serve the students,” Risacher said. “I tell my employees we only have one goal here — it’s a simple mission to improve the food experience for the student. That’s all we’re going to do. So everything we do supports that. And that means working with student groups. We are engaged with SGA on a weekly basis. We’re committed to working with [the College] and the student groups on any project they want on campus and use our expertise to make it happen.”

In the past, Risacher said he has seen student governments take over and run their own coffee shops.

“You have to have the participation to make it work,” Risacher said. “So you have to see who actually has some skin in the game when it’s all said and done. The problem is that you have students coming and going — they’re here for four years at the most. … If you have a business entrepreneur, they’re going to push it, but when they graduate what happens?”

However, Risacher said Sodexo will work with Saint Mary’s SGA in reinstalling Clarissa Dalloway’s Coffeehouse.

“In every case I know of, we will work with whatever group to be available to them with the resources that they need,” Risacher said.

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