Amy Beckstrom: Creating Community
Amy Beckstrom knows the key to a successful operation is to surround yourself with experts. As director of dining services at 28,000-student University of Colorado at Boulder, Beckstrom has assembled a team that increased gross revenue by 26% since becoming director in 2007.
“When I worked in schools I did the procurement, the nutrition, everything,” Beckstrom says. “What’s unique about college dining is that now I have an administrative team that is a line-up of experts. The key is that with a university this size you are able to have a team of experts that can really enhance every single area.”
Culinary development: The American Culinary Federation honored Beckstrom’s culinary team earlier this year with one of eight national Achievement of Excellence awards. Beckstrom says the award is the result of several strides made to foster culinary development, including the department’s participation in the ACF apprenticeship program.
“Every year at least four to six of our chefs participate in the apprenticeship program, which is extensive,” Beckstrom says. “The chefs apply and then they go to Denver almost every week and get training from ACF. That program has set a foundation for culinarians to improve their techniques. I think there is a synergy between the campus and its chefs that really fosters progressive eating habits.”
The renewed focus on culinary inspired the department to make the lead chefs from each unit part of the core management team.
“Each month when the management team met, the culinarians weren’t part of those conversations,” Beckstrom says. “Now that they are it helps us with decision-making and ensures communication. As a result of the new dining hall, we had to challenge our staff to learn new techniques such as cook-chill.”
Center for Community: The building that required the department to up the ante on its skills is the new 323,000-square-foot Center for Community, which features 10 dining concepts, a grab-and-go café, a bakery and a late-night retail location. [For a video tour of the Center for Community, click here.]
“In the new dining hall the stations all feature display cooking,” Beckstrom says. “That required our chefs not only to look at their skills but also at their customer service. The important thing in this is that in dining we often just think we are feeding, feeding, feeding. This new building has challenged us and we have purposefully communicated with our staff that this isn’t how we did things before. You’re going to be a part of the education of our students. You are building community and creating an environment where faculty and staff will want to come in and interact with students.”
The dining hall portion of the building features 10 concepts: Italian Cibo (pizza, made-to-order pasta), Latin Comida (made-to-order burritos), Asian Shi Pin (stir-fry), Persian Ghaza (kebabs, flatbreads), Sushi (hand-rolled), Smoke ’n Grill (in-house smoked items, rotisserie chicken, comfort foods), Kosher (kosher meats and side dishes), Black Coats (chef’s choice small plates), Wholesome Field (salad bar with fresh fruits, veggies, soups and deli items) and Desserts (fresh-baked goods, ice cream sundae bar). The grab-and-go café features salads, sandwiches and other high-end deli items. The WeatherTech Café, the late-night retail location, features made-to-order pizzas, sandwiches, salads, smoothies and gelato.
“We are serving about 10,000 meals per day in dining centers alone—about 5,800 just in the C4C,” Beckstrom says. “I originally estimated that 40% of our transactions would be at this location, but it’s more like 60%. The big focus here is a world of dining. I mentioned the production techniques the team needed to improve. That’s because we now do kosher, Persian and sushi, which we had never done before. With these stations, people are recognizing that this is high quality, authentic food.”
Executive Chef Kerry Paterson says the fact that Beckstrom doesn’t micromanage makes her successful.