MURRAY — The contractor that took over Murray State University’s dining services a few months ago is quickly moving to implement not only new programs, but ones with well-known names attached.
During Friday’s meeting of the university’s Board of Regents, personnel from the Maryland-based Sodexo company gave a timeline on when students, faculty and even the general public can expect to see these new additions, such as popular fast-food establishment Chick-fil-A, coffee giant Starbucks and breakfast specialist Einstein Bros. Bagels. In most cases, those changes are expected quite soon, the fall of 2019.
“From the first day I came to Murray State University about a year ago, my mind was just beaming with ideas of what we could do to actually add to a great program already here,” said Sodexo Director of Business Development Stephen Gibson, who addressed the Regents Friday morning. “That was the first thing that came to mind. It wasn’t about national grants, though. It was more about a partnership. What can we do as partners to contribute to students’ success? So I was so excited and saw this as a true partnership.
“We don’t like to be seen as ‘vendors.’ We like to be seen as ‘business partners,’ supporting recruitment, retention and engagement of student success.”
In October, Sodexo took over the university’s dining services with a deal worth $35.6 million through June 30, 2029. The deal officially begins Saturday, the day Jim Halcombe takes over as general manager of Racer Dining.
“I can’t tell you how honored I am to be part of the Murray family,” Halcombe told the Regents, adding that he became a resident of the community a couple of weeks ago. “I graduated from Berea College (in central Kentucky) and it was along about that time that I learned what it meant to serve. We’re here to serve and provide students with great opportunities. Dining services plays a very important role (in a university), but we have things beyond just dining services, beyond just what we provide as far as where food goes.
“We have different opportunities for marketing, safety, finance, you name it. The list goes on and on.”
Along with providing a timeline, Gibson also gave ideas as to where the new additions will locate.
For Chick-fil-A, he said it will occupy The Stables on the first floor of the Curris Center by the fall of 2019. That is also the timeline for Starbucks, slated for a spot near the dance lounge on the second floor of the Curris facility. Also inside Curris will be a revamped Thoroughbred Room that will feature, among other things, Steak ‘n Shake.
Also planned for 2019 will be Einstein, which is slated for a spot at Waterfield Library. For 2020, a remodel of Winslow Dining Hall is in the plans.
Gibson said all plans have students in mind, which is a reminder of his situation from when he was a college student.
“I came (to the United States) 16 years ago as an international student (from Jamaica), and it’s really hard being a student in a foreign country. However, certain dishes served reminded me of home,” he said, relating the story of another foreign student. “That person invited this lady to his graduation because every single day, she prepared him his favorite ham and cheese sandwich.”
One program in place for several years at Murray State also will continue: the inclusion of pork products produced at a swine farm run by the university’s Hutson School of Agriculture. Sodexo District Manager Celia Daniels said this is similar to a program at Berea, whose dining services utilizes chicken and eggs farmed by interests of that institution.