Dennis Pierce: His Own Man

The resident student experience is also being enhanced under Pierce’s guidance. Landolphi teaches a one-credit course called the First Year Experience, in which students learn basic cooking skills, how to grocery shop and how to follow a nutritious diet. This year, a unique “guest chef” program was created in Towers dining facility. Once a month, up to 25 students get to dine with a campus chef. The unique aspect is that they help to prepare the meal they will eat.

New England restaurant scene: Like many of his contemporaries, Pierce got his introduction to foodservice by funding his college education working in various New England restaurants. After graduating from St. Joseph’s College in Maine, he took a job with the Seiler Corp. During his brief tenure there, he worked at several Seiler accounts, including the University of Hartford, Simmons College and Bridgton Academy.

He then worked for 10 years at the University of Delaware, until his father died in 1985 and he returned to New England. He took a job as a general manager at Dartmouth College. Two years later, he landed the assistant director’s post at UConn. Over the years, Pierce has established himself not only at UConn, but within the university foodservice world at large. As an active member of the National Association of College & University Food Services for 24 years, Pierce was its president in 1998—a position held by his former boss, Len Hodgson, 20 years earlier.

With 18 years as an assistant under Hodgson and Weller, one might assume that Pierce stepped right into the role of director when Weller retired. That was hardly the case, however. Instead, the university embarked on a national search for a replacement.

“This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Pierce recalls. “I was applying for my own job, so to speak, because as associate director I already was responsible for most of the department—everything except catering and retail.”

What was even more uncomfortable was that, as part of the process, Pierce had to be interviewed by a group of his own employees and sell them on why they should have him promoted. He says he believes he won the job in part because he came to the interview armed with a five-year plan for revamping the department and upgrading the culinary program. Incidentally, six months ago, Pierce and his team drafted a new mission statement and created a new five-year plan.

Change inevitable, growth optional: Pierce says that change in college foodservice is not only inevitable, it is mandatory, because its customer base is changing in so many ways. One way, of course, is in its diversity.

“Sometimes, we lose sight of the fact that our customers are so diverse that there no longer is a category of ‘comfort’ foods,” he suggests. “What is comfort to one person is not what is comfort for someone else. As a result, our dining halls have become almost like a seven-day-a-week theme meal.”

Another customer change that college foodservice has to take into account is the increase in food allergies, a fact he attributes to the use of processed foods in today’s society.

“We are not a hospital,” he notes. “We are not built like a hospital. But we have become very adept at meeting a variety of dietary needs. More important, there is an expectation now that you have to provide this. So we have to consider a whole host of allergens as we plan menus and write recipes.”

Sustainability is yet another issue for Pierce and his staff to deal with. He explains that although the university “has taken a hard look at being very good stewards of the environment,” the process has been a series of small steps because “there are not yet a lot of resources or authorities out there on sustainability.” But his department is evaluating all equipment purchases to ensure that they are getting the most energy-efficient and “green” equipment. Buying local and organic is another aspect that Dining Services is eager to embrace, despite “cost and distribution” issues.

Finally, the university is building a composting area, to which Dining Services will contribute enormously. The resulting fertilizer will be used by the university and offered to the surrounding community as well.

“This is an area in which we’ve come full circle,” Pierce points out, “because we were doing this real big back in the 1980s, and then it waned.”

However, as much as Pierce embraces change, he acknowledges that sometimes the “old ways” are best. That is why when students walk into a residence hall dining unit such as Towers, they will find more than 20 varieties of cereal not in the ubiquitous clear plastic dispensers but in their original boxes.

“That is something that Len Hodgson did, and it works,” says Pierce. “I don’t know of another university that does this, and I don’t want to tell you how much more I spend on cereal because of it. But the students like it because they know exactly what they are getting, and I won’t change it.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Food delivery company Good Uncle is expanding to 15 college campuses this fall, The Daily Orange reports.

The company plans to grow along the East Coast and is looking at opening at schools such as George Washington University, Pennsylvania State University, Villanova University and American University. Good Uncle hopes to open at 50 to 100 campuses by 2019.

Starting as a delivery-only kitchen in 2016, Good Uncle partners with local restaurants to recreate their popular dishes and then deliver them to college students. The company offers free delivery, no delivery minimum...

Ideas and Innovation
wahoo tacos

School lunch is heating up. As expectations rise in the noncommercial sector, the old-fashioned cafeteria has become a hot topic. Political pressure on schools has seesawed over the past eight years, and nutritional regulations on items like sodium and whole grains have been overhauled (and back again). Meanwhile, students, parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers are demanding more healthfulness and better taste from school meals, often for the same cost.

Yet the industry’s best are dedicated to getting better, even while looking to the future with caution. “There’s not...

Sponsored Content
WinCup product

From WinCup ® .

The shape of hospitality is always changing—and challenging. Take the boom in off-premise and takeout, for example, that is expanding foodservice beyond the four walls of the dining room. That trend is driving both commercial and noncommercial operators to rethink their packaging needs—from a practical operational standpoint as well as when it comes to addressing consumers’ needs and desires.

Take it away

The tide of takeout is rising: 49% of 18- to 34-year olds say they are ordering food to-go more often now than they were three years ago, with 36% saying...

Industry News & Opinion

The dining team at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., is concerned about the school’s upcoming switch to a new food vendor this fall, the Daily Northwestern reports.

While Northwestern says that its new vendor, Compass, will invite staff to join the company and dining employees will receive the same pay, benefits and seniority they have in their current arrangement, workers are still worried about the change.

Staff say that the university did not keep them informed while searching for a new vendor and that they learned about new developments through students and...

FSD Resources