Jon Lewis: Remarkable Service

“For the past 25 years I had worked for BSU, we had to pay for our food, and it actually discouraged us from eating on campus, “ says Liz Poore, assistant director of operations. “It also wasn’t good that management was eating off campus and not eating the food we were saying was good, healthy and a great value for our customers. Jon has definitely improved the morale and culture of our department and that is why I feel he has been so successful. He is clear about his expectations but not unrealistic. He has high standards and expresses them well.”

Lewis made another big push for meal plans for non-resident students. Lewis says they introduced block meal plans—where students just buy a certain number of meals per semester rather than a certain number of meals per week—in both 75 and 100 blocks as opposed to a traditional five meals a week plan. They also created discounted dining dollar block meal plans where the more you deposit the deeper the discount. For example, if a student buys a $500 plan, they get a 16% discount and only pay $420, but still get the $500 in value. For a $100 plan, the discount is 8%, a $200 plan, the discount is 10% and so on.

“We have increased our non-resident meal plan participation from 180 three years ago to 370 this year. We took a look at the non-resident meal plans and made some changes to make them more attractive, and as a result our numbers have increased dramatically, but the truth is those plans were priced way too high. So we lowered the price and the number of meals and now we’re selling more because students are willing to invest in those because it’s not as much commitment.”

Concept crusade: In Lewis’ short time at Ball State he has developed more than five restaurant concepts including The Bookmark Café, a library coffee shop with pastries, sandwiches and salads; The Retreat, a faculty and staff restaurant that is open to students for dinner; and Out of Bounds, a market and grill that features grab-and-go items. However, Lewis is currently focusing his efforts on bringing more national brands to campus.

“We want a stronger portfolio of national brands,” Lewis says. “This fall, we opened a Taco Bell and a franchised Starbucks, which I know a lot of people have done but here it’s still kind of a novelty. We’re also opening a Jamba Juice and a Quiznos within a year. There has been a big demand for that. We’ve done market research and listed out the preferred brands and, regardless of what people think, students still strongly prefer national brands. We decided if they want them, we’re going to give them to them. Even though there is a commission involved, we price it in a way that we can still make it reasonable. Rather than argue about nutrition, these national brands are what they want. We have enough nutritious food elsewhere on campus.”

Lucas Miller, manager of menu development and the test kitchen, says it is Lewis’ willingness to think outside the box and give students and employees what they want that makes him an effective director.

“I’d say that he’s  innovative,” Miller says. “He’s willing to bring in new ideas and at the same time he’s good at balancing that with financial health of the business. We are constantly renovating. He is innovative with developing concepts whether it’s national or one we come up with on our own. He’s always willing to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our students because those are always changing, while still making sure we’re financially healthy.”

One area where Lewis has improved food quality is by increasing the culinary talent in each operation.

“In some locations where we had one culinary trained person, now we have two,” Lewis says. “Rather than hire a manager and try to teach them food, we’re doing the reverse as much as we can by hiring food people and teaching them the business part of it. It is kind of turning the whole philosophy on its head. We’re showcasing the chefs. Whenever we can, we feature chefs in the pictures or promotions so that our customers can get used to the fact that we’re not using untrained cooks, we’re focusing on the higher-end culinary.”

With all these changes, Poore says Lewis has only had a positive impact on the dining team at Ball State.

“Jon has lifted the dining department to a new level of service and brought much needed change and inspiration,” Poore says. “We meet every two weeks at a scheduled time to touch base on projects and assigned tasks, so it is great to have that time to share where we are on things, and I can always count on a few laughs from him as well. It is amazing how relaxed yet focused the team has all become in working alongside Jon, and speaking for myself, I am  grateful and appreciative."

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
star wars storm trooper

My favorite event—because I’m kind of dorky—is our “May the fourth be with you” (aka “Star Wars”) day on May 4. The whole dining team dresses up, and we offer things like Chewbaklava, Boba Fettuccine and BB-8 Buckeyes. We had a guest cry because they got to take a picture with Chewy.

Menu Development
spilled coffee beans glasses

Following an initial test at the end of May, Starbucks announced that more than 500 of its stores will be pouring nitro coffee by the end of summer. Capitalizing on the cold-brew coffee trend—which reached $7.9 million in sales in 2015 on 115% growth from the previous year, according to researcher Mintel—select U.S. cafes will give up the counter space to serve the creamy, nitrogen-infused java made from the cold-brew base. But how did nitro become the hottest new thing in coffee?

Bringing the bar to coffeehouses

It was the chrome double tap, similar to a bar’s beer tap, and the...

Ideas and Innovation
tray number

We created lucky tray days to help create an experience surrounding our brand. The trays are numbered; we pick a number and the winner receives a free lunch. We’ve enlisted the help of one of our coaches, who calls out the random lucky winner, and it drums up a lot of excitement.

Menu Development
recipe revamp chicken soup

As a continuous care retirement community, The Garlands of Barrington in Illinois provides daily foodservice to 270 independent living and skilled nursing care residents, with the majority of sodium restrictions coming from the latter, says Executive Chef Nicola Torres. Instead of cooking two versions of chicken noodle soup—a favorite offered at least twice a week—he reworked his recipe into a flavorful lower-sodium version that appeals to all. “Everybody eats soup, so I created a homemade stock that uses no salt at all, ramping up the flavor with fresh herbs and plenty of vegetables,...

FSD Resources