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Friday, April 19, 2024

UF to hire new food provider

University breaks ties with Aramark, opts for Chartwells Higher Education to manage campus food

<p>An employee prepares a cheeseburger at The Fresh Food Company.</p>

An employee prepares a cheeseburger at The Fresh Food Company.

UF Business Services announced recently it will break off its 13-year contract with Aramark to hire Chartwells Higher Education to handle all on-campus food services, including catering, residential, retail and athletic dining. 

The new provider is set to take over July 1. The transition means 949 Aramark workers, including 515 students, will be laid off in late June. Each will be given the opportunity to interview for a position earning equal or better wages than what they earn now, UF business affairs communications manager AnaLee Rodriguez wrote in an email to The Alligator. It is unclear if all Aramark positions will be offered with Chartwells. 

Contract negotiations between Chartwells and UF have not been finalized, but UF has advertised renovations and expanded local partnerships under Chartwells. A document obtained by Food Justice Coalition members and shared with The Alligator details Chartwells’ proposal. It contains data about Gen Z’s dining tendencies from its analytics partner, E15.

The proposal, which has not been officially approved, shows the Broward Dining Center may transform into “1853: A Florida Food Hall Experience.” Gator Corner Dining Center could become the “Gator Den” and serve fresh produce and protein from local farms including Traders Hill Farms, Frog Song Organics and Fisher Farms

Chartwells hopes to bring a teaching kitchen to campus, which would focus on educational food classes and nutrition literacy. 

Reitz Union restaurants, including Wing Zone, Pollo Tropical and Papa John’s, may be replaced with alternatives. Chartwells proposed Sonny’s BBQ, Luke’s New York Bagel Shop and Satchel's Pizza become permanent campus fixtures.

Ronan Hart, a 21-year-old UF history senior and Food Justice Coalition organizer, said the change is a win for their cause. The group, formed in 2020 by students and local activists, called on the university to award its new contract to a provider that does not rely on prison labor contracts or commit wage violations — scandals Aramark has been criticized for. It also demanded a $15 hourly minimum wage, a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in local food sourcing and further transparency measures. 

“Aramark is gone, which is a pretty big part of what we were asking for,” Hart said. “We don’t want to overlook that.”

He said he is still disappointed by unethical practices at Chartwells’ parent company, the Compass Group. He disapproved of its service with the oil industry, military bases and correctional facilities outside the U.S.

“UF can’t just buy their way into an ethical food system,” Hart said. 

Chartwells has been criticized in the past for mishandling its accounts, including D.C. Public Schools and its parent company’s involvement in the 2013 horsemeat scandal

Chartwells acknowledged it has fallen short in some instances and assured it has learned from past experiences to properly manage and investigate issues, Meredith Rosenberg, the vice president of communications and creative services for Chartwells, wrote in an email to The Alligator May 4.

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The university based its decision on several criteria including funding, sustainability, involvement in the prison service industry, and diversity and inclusion policies, staffing and improvement plans. 

UF officials believed Chartwells’ proposal was most aligned with UF’s vision for campus dining, Rodriguez wrote.

About three weeks after UF’s procurement website published a document stating the university’s intention to choose Chartwells, Aramark filed a formal written protest to UF’s Director of Procurement Nicola Heredia. It called for a quasi-judicial hearing to overturn the decision. Aramark has since withdrawn the protest. 

Aramark alleged Chartwells concealed its parent company’s ties to prison service and UF employees unlawfully favored Chartwells during the selection process.

Aramark representatives included a document that shows Canteen, a vending services division of Compass Group USA, entered a contract with the Orange County Board of Commissioners to provide vending machines for its corrections department. The contract was signed in Sept. 2017 and remains in effect until Sept. 26, 2022. 

While Canteen does currently have a contract with the correctional facilities, Chartwells holds no contracts with prisons, according to Courtney Bryant Hill, a Chartwells representative.

“We want to clarify that Chartwells Higher Education has never managed any food service operations within any correctional facilities,” Rosenberg wrote in an email to The Alligator. “In fact, as a first in our industry, Compass Group USA made a conscious decision to divest all remaining interest in its prison services business, Trinity, in 2014.”

Aramark alleged a UF employee openly disparaged Aramark and urged its employees to seek employment with Chartwells instead. Aramark alleged the UF employee, who they say oversaw evaluation committee meetings, would announce his prejudice against Aramark in front of those involved with contract decision-making.

Aramark declined to comment on the written protest and UF awarding its dining management contract to Chartwells.

UF officials say they stand by their decision to choose Chartwells as the university’s next dining provider. 

“Following the selection, Aramark filed a protest in which it made numerous allegations,” Assistant Vice President for Business Services Eddie Daniels wrote in an email. “Aramark did not provide additional facts or evidence to support the allegations and subsequently withdrew its protest.”

Fernando Figueroa contributed to this report.

Contact Julia at Follow Julia on Twitter @JuliaArinCooper. Contact Fernando at Follow him on Twitter @fernfigue.

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Julia Cooper

Julia Cooper is a Miami native and second-year Journalism major at UF. She is a photographer for The Alligator. When she isn’t taking photos or doing homework, you might find her painting, watching TikTok, or practicing her embroidery.

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