David Friend: Friendly Initiator
A master blueprint: As in any city, large or small, construction and renovation are ongoing and WVU is, in many respects, a small city. Thanks to Friend’s efforts, it’s now one with a master growth plan for dining services. Over the next five years, he will oversee 13 new operations or renovations including several on three regional campuses.
“Two of our regional campuses were turned into self-operated locations versus contract,” he explains. “The third was already self-op; we went into it to help out, but it has since come under our operations. Potomac State College in Kaiser, WV, transitioned under Jeff’s directorship. Two years later, we took over Jackson’s Mill Conference Center. Then, two years ago, we assisted West Virginia Tech, in Montgomery, to become self-operated. All revenues stay on-site, but we help with administration and procurement of food by letting them use our purchasing program. We’re also providing support and direction for those units. We don’t charge a thing since they’re regional campuses of our university and we want to increase their profitability.”
Now, Potomac State is building a residential dining facility as well as a retail outlet. Since it has become much more profitable, reserves the department has accrued are being used to cover the costs of the renovation. Jackson Mills is renovating a 300-seat dining room and adding new meeting rooms. West Virginia Tech plans to open a new food court in the fall of 2007. Friend is overseeing all three of these projects, while managing some renovations of his own. “This summer, we’re renovating Boreman Bistro from a traditional cafeteria to a food court,” Friend points out. “Production will be at each point of service so there’s interaction between production personnel and students. There will be demo cooking, a deli with items made to order, a Healthy ‘U’ station, plus soup and salad—all geared to provide healthy options.”
Healthy ‘U’ debut: As a matter of fact, creatively providing healthy options has earned national recognition for Friend and his department. Since West Virginia has the dubious honor of being ranked third in the nation among states with a high level of heart-related diseases, WVU’s president, Dr. David Hardesty, Jr., wanted a campus-wide wellness initiative to be created. Rising to the challenge, Friend and his staff developed the Healthy “U” program, which was a gold medal winner in the 2006 Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards from the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS). More recently, Healthy “U” garnered a gold medal from Welcoa (Wellness Companies of America). It was eligible for competition since WVU has become a “Well Workplace.”
“The Healthy ‘U’ program has multiple components with wellness centers in each of the residential dining facilities,” Friend explains. “Right at the beginning, I hired our first full-time dietitian, Nettie Freshhour, two years ago. Each of the centers has a food pyramid displayed along with 12 brochures packed with specific information, plus a different 2,000-calorie diet sheet each day. Some participants don’t follow it rigidly for all three meals, but initially we thought about 50 people in each operation would take advantage but now there are at least 100 at each site. In Café Evansdale—our dining center for the largest residential facility—we’ve served as many as 500 when we menued raspberry chicken.”
Employee inclusion: The Healthy “U” program has also been geared to the needs of all dining services employees with components that combine walking activities (such as complete 100 miles in 100 days) with a chance to win a prize in a random drawing; funding health screenings with release time given by the department, and more.
Friend says revenue has increased 25%, from $16 million to $20 million, on the main campus alone. Part of that can be attributed to an increase in enrollment of about 500 students. But it’s also directly related to an increase in off-campus meal plan participation. “We [were selling] about 5,000 meal plans when I launched an aggressive campaign to increase participation [among] off-campus students,” he says. “Off-campus sales increased 96.4% for the ’05-’06 school year with a 230% further increase in ’06-’07. Prior to my becoming director, there was not a comprehensive program in place to sell off-campus meal plans.”
Friend says his true love—besides Nancy, his wife—is high-end special event catering, so he’s looking forward to the 2009 opening of a $25-million alumni center. “I see great potential growth for catering in addition to the more than 4,000 events each year that account for more than $1.3 million in annual sales today. A four- or five-course meal really allows you to show your creativity.”