David Friend: Friendly Initiator

Lucky is the person whose career affords them the opportunity to do exactly what they love doing, in the part of the country they like best, while surrounded by competent employees who also enjoy what they’re doing.

Maybe it’s a “rah, rah” college thing or perhaps just a happy confluence of talent and opportunity, but ever since David Friend, with a newly earned degree in special education in hand, decided almost 30 years ago to pursue foodservice management opportunities instead, he’s never regretted the decision. Now approaching his 50th birthday, Friend quietly but steadily has been earning the recognition of his peers for some of the unique programs he’s devised as director of dining services at West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown.

Building credentials: Friend was no stranger to foodservice, since both his grandfather and father operated restaurants in Virginia. He himself had worked both in the back and the front of the house during high school, and then waited tables throughout his college years. He says he was always happiest within the comfort zone of restaurants.

“After college, I accepted an offer from Howard Johnsons to be a food and beverage manager, which I did for five years,” he recalls.

Soon he began building his credentials in the college arena. His first stop was Christopher Newport College in Newport News, Va., where he worked for a year as catering manager before becoming director of dining services, a position he held for the next five years.

“Then I had the exciting opportunity to move to Lynchburg College and, in a sense, to go home since my wife and I are both from there. In fact, she was my high school sweetheart,” Friend says happily.

After 11 years at Lynchburg—10 of them as director of dining services, during which time he also earned a master’s degree in educational leadership—Friend was hired in 1999 as assistant director of catering and retail operations at WVU. Three years later he was named associate director and then, in July 2004, he assumed the mantle of director when the venerable Jeff DeMoss moved to the University of Kentucky as executive director of dining services. Friend was undaunted by the responsibilities involved in meeting the nutritional needs of 26,500 students (including about 5,500 on-campus residents) as well as approximately 5,300 faculty and staff—most of whom also expect showmanship and creativity in presentation—since he realized he was inheriting a first-class operation. “I was extremely fortunate in having a great leadership team of eight assistant directors plus 15 managers, approximately 200 FTEs, and 273 student employees,” he explains.

Thorough assessment: Although Friend is an accomplished downhill skier with a substantial adventure gene, he was not ready to hurl himself onto potentially slippery slopes without thoroughly assessing the conditions. “The first thing I did as director was to hire a consulting firm, Porter Worldwide out of Maryland, to do a market study including a Web-based survey of our customers, since I felt we needed an objective analysis from an outside group,” he recalls.

“We received 1,498 responses in a week, probably because we gave respondents a chance to win a free iPod. The firm also conducted 14 focus groups representing diverse campus sectors including various student contingents, faculty, staff, foodservice workers and dining services managers. Random intercept interviews were also conducted in several facilities. Through this whole process we learned that students wanted national brands. Therefore we brought in Burger King last year and also opened two ‘…We proudly brew Starbucks’ locations, and we are currently negotiating a third for the health science building. We also have a Freshens smoothie operation in a foodcourt and we’re finalizing a contract for a national sub sandwich concept.”

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