Dee Hardy: Her Own Woman

Dee Hardy, Silver Plate, University of Richmond

At a Glance: Dee Hardy
•Associate Vice President for Campus Services
•The University of Richmond, Richmond, Va.
•Years in foodservice: 36
•Years at the University of Richmond: 32
•Meals per day: 6,250
•Annual Sales Volume: $16.5 million

Dee Hardy always knew she had big shoes to fill. After all, the current associate vice president for Campus Services served a big portion of her career at the University of Richmond working for Ron Inlow, who was awarded a Silver Plate in 1990. But it is what Hardy has been able to accomplish on her own that has made her department into one of the best programs in the country.

“[What I learned from Ron was] he too always put students first,” Hardy says. “I believe he hired creative people and gave them a lot of free rein. He taught me a lot of good, basic systems that are the underpinnings of how the operation works today. He really let us be creative and make our own impact. I think I’ve passed that on and learned how to let my team do what they do best.”

Though Inlow played a big part in her professional development, Hardy’s love of foodservice came much earlier.

“My first job in food was in high school,” Hardy says. “I worked for a girls’ club called The Triangular Club, which was connected to the YMCA. They would cater lunches for the local community. I attended Valparaiso University for two years, where I worked in dining services, and that is where I met Ron Inlow. I also had pledged a sorority and I was in charge of all its food events. They did these luncheons for less than a dollar a person, and for whatever reason, I could make it happen. I could take a room full of people and make it work.”

After transferring to Purdue University to study equipment and environmental design, Hardy decided she was too much of a people person to be sitting behind a drawing board all day. She wandered into the restaurant and hotel program and next thing she knew she had found the right fit.

Dee Hardy, Silver Plate, University of Richmond, Heilman Center“After I graduated, I took a job with Aramark in Minneapolis,” Hardy says. “Boy, did I get an education. It was a great experience to learn about a lot of different types of facilities. Sometime later, after I had gone back to Purdue to get my master’s degree and be a TA, Ron contacted me to come to the University of Richmond. I was the manager of a dining hall at age 24.”

New dining options: One example of how Hardy has been able to reinvent her department was with the renovation/addition to Heilman Dining Center, the campus’s all-you-care-to-eat dining hall. Completed in 2006, the $9.9 million renovation, which was LEED certified in 2009, brought the kitchen to the forefront and features a cooked-to-order Mongolian grill, a pasta station, fresh brick-oven pizza, the Spider Grill, comfort food, a Latin American station, a soup and salad bar, a vegetarian and vegan station, desserts and a deli. The building also houses ETC, a fully stocked c-store that features local products.

“The challenge with this renovation was the fact that we had to continue to provide service when we didn’t have an alternate location,” Hardy says. “We would take segments of the building down at various times, finish them and then open them back up. We actually changed what is now the seating area into a makeshift food court.”

Dee Hardy, Silver Plate, University of Richmond, Passport CafeA more recent addition to Hardy’s portfolio is the Passport Café, an international retail concept created in partnership with the campus’s International Center. Passport Café features breakfast sandwiches, daily hot items (drunken noodles, pad Thai), paninis, salads, wraps, sushi, sandwiches, gelato, cheese plates and crudités. Passport Café also serves coffees and teas from around the world. Maya Vincelli, assistant director of retail services, says the International Center’s programming, as well as international holidays such as Chinese New Year, drive the menu.

“We also offer items such as a white bean spread with toast points,” Vincelli says. “We tried to think of the European sensibility. What is a snack to them? We try to do small portions but offer really great, quality products.”

Hardy says a few other new endeavors for the department include Eight Fifteen at Boatwright, a coffee shop located in the library; Lou’s, a small grab-and-go eatery located in the university’s business school; expanded concessions at the university’s new football stadium; and a possible fast-casual restaurant concept for Richmond’s downtown campus that would be open to the public. Hardy says her ability to manage so many projects is a credit to the team she has built at the university.

Dee Hardy, Silver Plate, University of Richmond, Lou's“You have to hire managers who like people,” Hardy says. “A lot of people say you hire for attitude, and I think that’s a huge part of our success. Credentials are great, but ideally if you can get a people person who has some credentials, I think that makes the difference. That grows superstars.”

Catering: Catering has been a huge area of growth for Hardy. She attributes the nearly 350% sales increase—from $346,000 to $1.25 million—in nine years to her team.

“Catering has increased by about four times what it was when Ron left, and I think I was able to do that by hiring the right people,” Hardy says. “It's all about giving [the team] enough freedom and latitude to use their creativity. I have a group of people who just think they can do anything and they usually can. One of the things I love about them is every time some challenge comes along they are just all excited about jumping on it, especially if they’ve never done it before. They love to figure out how to be successful at a new challenge.”

The construction of the campus alumni center allowed the department’s catering program to change from just serving the campus community to catering for outside groups that came in.

“Once that started other people would want to rent a room on campus, so catering expanded,” Hardy says. “[The university also opened] the school of leadership, so that expanded catering. We’ve had some natural growth but there were certain things we did to aggressively grow our catering business. We have an extensive box lunch program that does about 60,000-70,000 box lunches a year. I would say street value on catering is about $1.6 million.”

Sustainability: Another area where the department has implemented an aggressive strategy is sustainability.

“We do composting in conjunction with the state,” Hardy says. “They come and pick up our pre- and post-consumer waste, and we conduct regular food waste studies. The addition of Heilman was a LEED-certified renovation. Twice a year we analyze our disposables and I think 98% of what we buy can be recycled or has been recycled. We identify what we buy locally and give preference to local vendors. I’d say we buy about 20% locally. We are also certified as a Virginia Green Restaurant.”

Trayless dining is also a growing trend for the department. Currently, the department promotes trayless Fridays.

“I think trayless is great in terms of what it does, but it’s not always offering a quality customer service experience,” Hardy says. “There are facilities that are well designed for it and there are facilities that are not. [Heilman] is more than 60,000 square feet. So when we go trayless we remove the trays, but we do keep some on the sides so it becomes kind of a personal decision. I think doing it periodically means that the students stop and think about what [going trayless] means. When we do promote it, people come back to me and say, ‘I really thought about what I took because I couldn’t carry it all. I noticed I was wasting less,’ and that’s what you want to accomplish.”

Big ideas yield big growth: With all that she accomplished, it is hard to deny the impact Hardy has had on the department since becoming director. She has overseen a significant increase in revenue—from $6.5 million to $16.5 million. Overall board plan sales have grown from $4.8 million to $10.4 million. The department has a 99.5% participation rate on campus. Despite all these accomplishments, Hardy is quick to credit her team’s ability to adhere to the department’s philosophy.

“We are a service industry and you’ve got to have a comfort level with that,” Hardy says. “You need people who enjoy making things happen for other people. Another thing about our team is we are not set in our ways. Just because we’ve done something a certain way doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. We continue to reinvent ourselves and we don’t rest on our laurels.

“I teach my managers or staff that you never say no without offering an alternative, and we live and breathe by that. I’ve just always believed that you may not be able to give them what they want, but you offer an alternative. They may not choose to take you up on it, but they’ll walk away knowing that you cared enough about them that you tried to figure out how to help them. We treat our students like our customers. They may have to eat with us, but we want them to like eating with us.”

What Others Say About Dee

Hossein Sadid, vice president for business and finance/treasurer at the University of Richmond:

Though Sadid is fairly new to the university—he started in 2009—he has been impressed with how Hardy has transitioned from director of food and auxiliary services to associate vice president of campus services.

“One of the things you do as a newcomer is gauge the talent you have
at the organization. Within a very short period of time, Dee emerged as one of my direct reports that really shined. She was promoted shortly after I started and her responsibility grew. She has integrated the new areas of responsibility with her previous areas of responsibility tremendously well. She has created a lot of synergies, and not only from the business perspective but also in terms of staff environment and campus services. She has found ways to create more collaboration between the different areas of responsibility. I have been very impressed with the speed that she has been able to integrate the new areas into her role. She has two really important things that work for her in terms of her leadership: attention to detail and an understanding of data. You don’t normally find a combination of those two attributes in most leaders, but she is really blessed with both.”

Bettie Clarke, executive director campus dining at the University of Richmond:

Clarke says she was impressed by Hardy’s ability to think on her feet during the Heilman Dining Center renovation.

“The dining center was a major undertaking for her. There was a lot of coordination involved. She was always very strong in our construction meetings. She always knew the right questions to ask, and when she didn’t she’d dive in to find out, ’if this happens, then what?’ It was a nice way to work. We all worked long hours and we all worked hard, but she is the kind of person who
is always working beside you. One of the things that impresses me the most is that she is always ready to think on her feet. Whatever the situation is she can think that situation through really quickly to at least get you from point A to point B.”

Julaine Kiehn, director of campus dining services at the University of Missouri in Columbia:

Kiehn says she enjoyed working with Hardy on the NACUFS education program, especially in the creation of the Foodservice Management Institute.

“We worked together to create the institute. She focused on logistics, and I created the curriculum and the program. Working with her is certainly a joy. She is
organized, a quick thinker, creative and a very giving and caring person. I was impressed with her vision. She can formulate a vision and make it become a reality. She and I had a similar vision for the institute, and that was to make it so the participants would be able to create an operation at the end of it—not the people part but all of the systems. She is progressive. Her level of enthusiasm is almost contagious. She has this sparkle in her eye. She is very personable. She values people as people. She’s a very hands-on manager and she also works very hard to develop her people and give them opportunities.”

Read more Silver Plate profiles: Lora Gilbert, George Miller Jr., Steve Sweeney, Bruce Thomas

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