David Sauers: Nailing Emory

It's only been six short months since Sodexo took over the foodservice at Emory University in Atlanta and tapped David Sauers to be its resident general manager. He had served as the contractor's Chicago-based regional marketing director supporting Campus Services, and previously was foodservice manager at Northwestern University. So he seemed the ideal choice to spearhead some major changes for a university that aims to be an international center of learning. It's also an institution that values its foodservice as vital in attracting students and faculty to its campus.

Dining services at Emory include a main facility in Dobbs University Center, otherwise known as Dining at the DUC. Stations range from Grille, Deli and Pizza to Classics and International. DUC also houses Einstein Brothers Bagels and a faculty dining room. Another large operation is the Cox Hall Food Court, where one finds Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Freshens and other branded concepts.

Other operations include Dooley's Den at the Depot and various retail operations in the library, academic buildings and residence halls. Sales volume under previous management was about $13 million annually, with about 1.5 million meals served.

A full plate: Suffice it to say that when Sauers came to campus, he had his hands full: getting Sodexho's staff organized; renovating Dining at the DUC; adding late-night options in response to student demands; increasing DUC and Dooley's revenues; and adding services at a campus museum to Sodexho's portfolio.

Sauers is also focusing on understanding the needs of the diverse customer base his department is serving including those in the School of Public Health, the law school, undergraduate education, etc.—and making sure the changes that have been made to date were the right ones. In fact, at the outset, the sheer size of the campus was fairly daunting. Emory has approx. 11,000 full-time, part-time and graduate students plus an equal number of staff and faculty. With a population of about 22,000 on campus, Sauers and his foodservice staff are now serving about 4,000 residential students and another 4,000 to 5,000 customers.

Then, there's catering, which, by Sauers' estimate, generated about $2 million in sales last semester or about 15% of overall business.

Since Emory has the highest expectations for any and all operations on campus—in fact, most interior spaces are of museum quality, he says—Sauers' challenges at the outset included "finding an absolutely first class management team and crew," as well as physically changing locations—every old location was upgraded—and opening new ones, all within a short time frame prior to opening for the fall semester.

Like clockwork, construction was completed by August 21st—with a 99% score achieved on the health inspection at the DUC, which had undergone a major renovation—and the first meals were served by the Sodexho team the very next day.

"The most significant and involved upgrade was in the DUC," Sauers explains. "We basically redesigned the way food was prepared. Since we really wanted to be able to prepare food to order for 1,500 people, we literally tore down walls between the kitchen and the front-of-the-house. This requires us to work quickly and neatly—now everyone must be a true culinarian. We had a great time raising everyone's level of expertise—although it was not altogether painless."

Most wanted: Each of the campus venues is expected to support itself and Sauers' department is also charged with generating new revenues and expanding service, all in "polished" locations. Overall, students need convenient service where they are. "In terms of good food, they're looking for fun, unexpected things along with some basic healthy choices—it all depends on the time of day," he says. "For example, they want late-night options with pizza and grill foods. In other words, they want it all. But really what I hear the most is they want a new library location with a 24/7 service." To answer that request, Sodexho plans to install its Jazzman's Café concept later this winter.

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