20 Most Influential: Ken Toong, University of Massachusetts

During his tenure at UMass, Toong has increased meal plan participation from 8,900 students in 1999 to 16,075 in 2011.

Ken Toong
Executive Director of Auxiliary Services,
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.

It’s exhausting for us as trade journalists to keep up with Ken Toong, so imagine what it’s like for his staff. Toong has turned the dining services department into a renowned entity—in 2011 alone UMass Dining was honored with three national awards. During his tenure at UMass, Toong has increased meal plan participation from 8,900 students in 1999 to 16,075 in 2011. While many operators may have accomplished similar feats, the difference is Toong is eager to share what he has done in order to help others reach similar heights.

“For the amount of kidding we do about Ken and the UMass program, he truly is an innovator and leader in our industry,” says Jon Plodzik, director of dining services at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “How he juggles it all none of us knows, but he keeps everyone trying to catch up.”

Toong’s commitment to authentic ethnic cuisines and to small bites with big flavor is something that has been replicated at many other institutions. In terms of local purchasing and sustainability, his department has checked every box, including a permaculture garden that was recently recognized by the White House. On top of all that his department has accomplished operationally, Toong also is the creator and host of the Tastes of the World Chef’s Culinary Conference, now in its 18th year.

“[The chef’s conference] unlike any other conference is filled with people in our industry who are dealing with the same issues that I am as an operator,” says Paul Nicolini, culinary manager at Pennsylvania State University-Wilkes Barre.

“A lot of the conferences I’ve been to are very clique-y. This conference is not. I think that comes from Ken. He is just a very outgoing person. To be able to bring in some of the best chefs in the world for people to meet, talk to, get ideas from and learn from is just amazing to me.” 


Foodservice Director has undertaken a bold initiative by identifying people who we believe are having the biggest impact on non-commercial foodservice. Our list may surprise you and should certainly intrigue you. Our honorees have backgrounds as varied as their personalities. They range from the father of the modern-day food truck to the wife of a sitting president. They include operators and suppliers, chefs and consultants, CEOs and civil servants. There are traditionalists and there are mavericks. Well-known names share space with hot newcomers. In all, 17 people, two groups of individuals and one institution compose the list. It’s time to meet FSD’s 20 Most Influential.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

In an effort to trim costs, the country’s largest senior living company laid off 100 staff members, including regional dining services directors, reports Senior Housing News .

Not all employees who were laid off will technically leave the company, Senior Housing News notes, as some will be reassigned to alternative positions. Brookdale recently posted third-quarter earnings that fell short of analysts’ expectations and that the company’s CEO called disappointing.

At the end of last year, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based company employed 53,000 workers on a full-time basis, and...

Industry News & Opinion

After receiving mixed feedback from parents, Randolph County School District in Asheboro, N.C., is inviting parents to tour the district’s kitchens and cafeterias to see how the food for school meals is made, Fox 8 reports.

School officials say that the tours, part of the district’s first Food Day for Parents, will give parents an inside look at the upkeep of the facilities, as well as enable them to sample some food and see how the district is upholding USDA guidelines.

Officials also hope that the tours will provide them with more guidance on what parents and students are...

Industry News & Opinion

After fielding complaints from parents and students, Sodexo is launching an initiative to improve dining services at Emerson College in Boston, the Berkeley Beacon reports.

The initiative will kick off this month with an event dubbed Fresh Start, marking the start of several moves aimed at improving service—including the hiring of a new executive chef, the addition of a second sous chef, and retraining current staff on food preparation and presentation.

Members of the Emerson community will also be able to share feedback through the introduction of monthly forums, as well...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., will soon switch over from magnetic strip-based student ID cards to chip-based ones, The Observer reports.

Along with being more secure, the new cards will allow students easier access to dining halls, enabling them to simply tap their cards on a reader to gain entrance. Students will also be able to add flex points and Domer Dollars—which can be used at eateries on and off campus—to their accounts via a mobile app.

The new cards are expected to be available by the time school begins next fall.

Read the full story...

FSD Resources