A new kind of meal hall

Food services at King’s have gone through a bit of a switch-up.

Earlier this year, a food services contract search committee was taking proposals from food service providers and a company named Chartwells was chosen for King’s; a move away from Sodexo.

Since July, Chartwells has been prepping for the influx of students in September while also working larger events like weddings in Prince Hall, despite renovations.

The kitchen area was renovated within the last ten years, so Chartwells is focusing more on the food pick up area, which will now be lighter and more open.

One of the biggest improvements in the renovations will be the new “My Pantry” area, which Chartwells has found success with at schools like Acadia and Mount Saint Vincent. It is located in a space that was once an office. It will be a fully-equipped area with a stocked pantry at the full disposal of students who pay to enter Prince Hall.

“My Pantry is a little kitchen where you cook for yourself. If you want a stir fry on a day where it’s not already offered, you can check out what’s in the pantry and make yourself one,” says Céline Béland, dining services director with Chartwells. “If on the weekend you want to sleep in but you really want to have this nice omelette when you wake up, you come here during the day and it’s wide open.”

Not only will students have to opportunity to cook for themselves or learn from others, they will also be able to request food items that they would like to have stocked in the pantry.

There’s also catering available just to students. They can order full pizzas while the meal hall is still open and pick them up from there for themselves and friends.

Many of the staff members who worked with Béland and Sodexo opted to stay on at King’s with Chartwells, with some changing job positions.

“Making sure they’re happy has been an important part for us, something we’ve been conscious of since the very start of the process because they’re part of our community too,” says Nicholas Hatt, Dean of Students.

In the changeover, King’s has gained chef Jamie England, who actually started work at King’s about 20 years ago before moving on to other positions.  

Béland is one of the many members of the food services staff who chose to stay at King’s with Chartwells rather than move on with Sodexo or other offers. She says that part of the reason she stayed was how close she feels to everyone here.

“I’m really, really in love with King’s. With the students, the faculty, staff, everybody here is really like it’s a big family,” she says. “It’s family away from home.”

Hatt hopes that changes like the My Pantry offering will be one more way to foster more of those relationships.  

“Celine is a wonderful chef herself and she loves getting in there and cooking with students,” says Hatt. “I think it’ll be a great way to build even stronger relationships between the dining hall and the students.”

What might be the most beneficial change for King’s students is the new set of extended hours for dining.

In a survey sent to students, faculty and staff last year, those who responded made it clear that they need more time to eat every day.

Starting in September, Prince Hall will open for the day at 7:30 a.m. and then close at 9 p.m. Fridays it will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and weekends 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In the past, some students were finding it difficult to get to Prince Hall before closing with sports team practices and late classes. Now, the extended hours may make that less of a problem.

“The dining hall is such an important social centre for campus and so anything we can do to make it more accessible, to as many people as possible, is only going to be a benefit to campus,” says Hatt.

Many of those who responded to the survey also indicated that they care about sustainable, local food — a standard that Chartwells holds for themselves. They source their coffee from Just Us! and other items from a distributor in the valley.

The need for student involvement in food services is also being taken into consideration. In September, an advisory committee will be established, says Hatt, and it will have student reps within it. There are also still employment opportunities for students with Chartwells, including a new position titled “student engagement coordinator.”

In the interest of keeping up with the wants and needs of King’s students, Chartwells has also been meeting with various groups on campus, including the King’s Day Students’ Society.

Libby Schofield, communications vice-president of the society, says they hope that Prince Hall and Chartwells’ food services will benefit day students, especially those in first-year.

“One of the biggest struggles of being a day student, especially in your first year, is missing out on the community that revolves around one: living in residence and two: living together,” says Schofield.

While things like My Pantry may seem to cater towards students in residence who like to take care of themselves, it is meant for everyone. Schofield says the meal plans and other options offered by Chartwells seem like they will be beneficial to day students.

“We’re hoping to take advantage of anything they have to offer and they seem pretty willing to give us whatever they can.”