On campus food at Rocky: A culture of mediocrity?, editorial by Editor-in-Chief Riley Howard

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chief-2739The last issue of The Summit featured an article that explored the idea of a culture of mediocrity in the Fortin Education Center. This discussion was started by Glendive High School Boys Basketball Coach, Wade Murphy, when he sent an email to parents and players attributing a culture of mediocrity as the reason for a losing athletic program.

Articles were published in the The Glendive Ranger-Review and the Billings Gazette explaining the situation. These articles went viral on social media outlets and started similar discussions around the country.

I would like to again apply this idea locally and explain how I see a culture of mediocrity in one area of the college that the entire campus population is affected by: on-campus dining.

It’s a typical day on the Rocky campus. I walk into the Bear’s Den after my 11 a.m. class. I’m hungry. My eyes scan the cooler in front of me. I could get a pre-made and packaged chicken wrap or sandwich for around $5. I’ve tried both before, and I haven’t been impressed. I’ve found the pre-made and packaged food to be soggy, not fresh, and there is always an unproportional amount of lettuce or condiments. I could go to the cafeteria and get an all- you-can-eat meal for $9, but I never quite feel like I get my money’s worth.

Finally, I see some cheese sticks, 3 for $1. Those look edible. I grab the cheese sticks and a bag of potato chips and I hope that it will hold me over until 5. Typically it doesn’t.

It wasn’t always this way. Up until the Fall of 2015, Sodexo ran the Grille where the Bear’s Den is now. The Grille served hot food, including burgers, chicken tenders, and sub sandwiches. Consequently, the Grille was a very popular spot on campus.

In 2015, Sodexo remodeled the Grille and renamed it the Bear’s Den. With the remodel and the addition of Starbucks products, the intention of the Bear’s Den was to create a place where students and faculty could interact. While I agree that these renovations have provided a nicer area for people to socialize, I believe that the poor quality of the food and beverages have limited the number of people that choose to do so.

This unintended phenomenon has affected the entire social atmosphere on campus. The Bair Student Center should be the epicenter of campus social life. At lunch time the Student Center is full of underclassmen who are required to have a cafeteria meal plan, but the traffic in the student center usually dies quickly after the lunch hour. Many upperclassmen choose to eat lunch off campus. A social atmosphere is crucial to the college experience, and a lack thereof not only results in an inconvenience to students and faculty, but could affect the student retention rate.

Anyone who has taken a business class can tell you that a monopoly or a lack of competition in any economic setting can result in a lower quality product at a higher price. I believe that the College’s exclusive contract with Sodexo creates a monopoly that has created a situation in which Sodexo does not serve a quality product at a price that provides value to the customer.

Anyone who went to the Yule Log Dinner in December or the Candlelight dinner last week would agree that the food catered by Sodexo at these events was of a much higher quality than on a typical day in the cafeteria or the Bear’s Den. Sodexo does have the potential to create a quality product; however, with the current monopoly of on campus food service, it chooses not too. I realize that cost of goods and labor is a consideration in the food industry, but hopefully enough resources are used to make a product that holds value to the customer.

What is the answer to these problems? Ideally, with the feedback of students and customers, Sodexo would offer a wider range of products in the Bear’s Den.

Obviously, an addition to the Bair Student Center that featured multiple vendors, much like you see at state schools, would x the problem. Although funds from generous donors have created some major improvements to campus infrastructure lately, let’s face it, things like that take time. A plan for an addition to the Student Center in order to serve the students better food options should be part of the College’s ten year plan, but what I’m more concerned with is what I’m eating for lunch today.

Fortunately, there are a few great places that aren’t too far from campus. I enjoy Caramel Cookie Waffle on 17th Street. It features Danish pastries and a soup and sandwich lunch special that goes well with a college budget. I’ll sometimes go to Bistecca right across the street from Rocky for some gourmet bar food, unfortunately, this doesn’t go as well with a college budget.

A few months ago, I stumbled on the Bayou City Catfish food truck. Bayou City Catfish is run by Joanna and Greg Holmes, who moved to Billings from Texas a year-and-a-half ago. The Holmes’ have run multiple food trucks in the South since 1998, “even before the food truck trend became big,” says Joanna. The Bayou City food truck sits in a different spot around Billings each day of the week. I usually visit it on Tuesday when it can be found in the Harbor Freight parking lot on 15th Street West and Grand Avenue.

Customers are given the option of Cajun deep fried shrimp, gator, or catfish. They can also choose a combo with two entrees. The to-go box is piled high with fries, and a couple of hush puppies are even thrown in for good measure. A lunch special is $10, but I always get my money’s worth.

Why wouldn’t it be possible to allow a food truck like Bayou City Catfish to have a presence on the Rocky Campus? Strategic alliances similar to that between Sodexo and the College could be made with several different food trucks. The presence of a food truck on campus would provide students with more options and would provide Sodexo with an incentive to better serve the Rocky community. Joanna Holmes says that Bayou City Catfish caters meals for Yellowstone Christian College several times a month. Why couldn’t a similar arrangement be made with Rocky?

Curt Boehm, General Manager of Sodexo on the Rocky Campus and Brad Nason, Dean of Students, both have said that they are open to suggestions that might improve the on-campus dining experience. However, I’m not sure that they are hearing enough suggestions to make a difference.

I talk with students and faculty everyday who are dissatisfied with the on-campus dining experience. Hopefully, these voices are heard and the on-campus food situation will improve.

An old adage states, “you are what you eat.” Assuming this is true, why should students and faculty at Rocky Mountain College be anything less than great?

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