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."

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