Nadeem Siddiqui: Rebuilding a Brand

His next move was a bold one: he closed the central warehouse, a huge process but one that Siddiqui felt had to happen if the department was to survive.

“We were buying our food a year in advance,” he says. “We were so tied to the system that we couldn’t change the menu. Our customers are going off campus and seeing new items, and they want us to do that and we can’t change the menu.”

Predictably, there was resistance to the move, mostly from people who feared their jobs would be lost.

“I told them, my job is to save your jobs,” Siddiqui recalls. “We had financial issues, and if we didn’t close the warehouse we were going to have even worse issues. And in the end, nobody has lost a job. Some people have retired, but those who chose to stay all have jobs. They may not be doing the same jobs they did before, but that’s a growth process.”

He and Arthur also have established new training programs for employees, to give them the skills they need to carry out Siddiqui’s initiatives. “We can rewrite the menus and revamp the programs, but in the end it’s the execution,” he notes. “You can create the nice recipes and the beautiful presentation, but if the day-to-day people can’t produce it, then it’s just show business. We’re in the reality business. We have to execute every day what we promise our customers.”

Siddiqui has not been bashful about letting people know what works and what doesn’t within the department. He has outsourced the operation of the campus C-stores to a local vendor “because we don’t have the expertise to run them.” And he has freely admitted that catering has “some challenges.”

“People come to us and ask us if they can use [an outside caterer] and I say, ‘Please do. I support that because we’re not ready for you. And I don’t want [your event] to fail because of us.’ I know that once we rebuild the program the business will come back.”

Siddiqui’s road to A & M has been circuitous, to say the least. It began in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where Siddiqui grew up. He came to this country in 1982, like his father had years earlier, to get an education. He matriculated at Moorhead State, in Moorhead, MN. After graduating, he went to work at nearby Concordia College, under the tutelage of Jane Grant Shambaugh.

“I worked for Jane for three years,” Siddiqui recalls. “Jane was great, because she was straightforward, honest, tell-it-like-it-is, and I appreciated that. I learned so much from her.” After Concordia came a succession of jobs as Siddiqui criss-crossed the country, never spending more than two or three years with one company or institution: Aramark; St. Lawrence University in upstate New York; Grinnell College in Iowa; the University of Wisconsin at Platteville, his first director’s job; the University of Chicago; another stint with Aramark; Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and finally Stanford, where his boss was Silver Plate Award winner Shirley Everett.

“I also worked for Peg Lacey (another Silver Plate recipient) when she was with Aramark,” Siddiqui adds. “I am probably the only person in this industry who has worked for all three of these women: Jane, Peg and Shirley, and anyone who has worked for any of these women is going to be successful if you practice what they teach you.”

Perhaps the most important thing they have taught him is that students always must be his department’s primary focus. “We’re foster parents, whether we like it or not,” he explains. “For nine months out of the year these are our children and we have to do everything we can to help them.”

That attitude prompts him to do what some people might consider above and beyond the normal routine, such as offering to have a Braille menu printed for a blind girl who will be attending A & M next semester. But Siddiqui believes such actions should be everyday occurrences.

“That’s our job; to make sure that every element of each person’s well-being is taken care of,” he says. “A Braille menu is the least we can do. In the past, students have come to our foodservice operations because they are convenient. We’re trying very hard to create a culture here that will make students come not just because we’re convenient, but because we’re great.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

K-12 foodservice participating in federal nutrition programs soon could fall into some extra cheese. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to buy 11 million pounds of cheese to raise plummeting prices, the result of a dairy glut. The acquired product will be distributed to federal nutrition programs, which might include WIC, SNAP and Child Nutrition Programs, and food banks.

The purchase falls short of a call from Congress, unions, special interest groups and commodity organizations for a $150 million buyout of dairy assets to mitigate the 35% drop in dairy revenues—a 30-year...

Ideas and Innovation
cardboard takeout box

The death knell keeps ringing for polystyrene containers. A story Monday in the Chicago Tribune reports that a man who provided free recycling for the foam products in 10 area communities is shutting down his services, citing expense and logistical difficulties, and leaving few options for diverting the material from landfills.

“From a business perspective, there is no market for [recycled polystyrene foam]. It's difficult to sell,” Beth Lang, facilities and general services manager at the Recycling Drop-Off Center in Naperville, Ill., told the Tribune. “The second reason, and more...

Industry News & Opinion

Students at Martin Luther College will be able to cook their own food in the cafeteria this year, thanks to the addition of a new self-cook station installed during the cafeteria’s renovation, The Journal reports.

In addition to the self-cook station, which contains induction cookers, the revamped cafeteria at the New Ulm, Minn., school will include new pizza equipment, a panini grill, tiled floors, poured countertops and new arrangements to make the cafeteria appear more open.

"We wanted to make it look more like a restaurant and not like a cafeteria," Director of Dining...

Industry News & Opinion

Two chefs at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., are trying to help solve the Mars food dilemma, myfoxspokane.com reports .

Just outside the school’s cafeteria, Executive Chef Timothy Grayson and his partner, Christine Logan-Travis, are trying their hand at growing tomatoes, oregano, basil and other plants in Martian Regolith Soil, the closest soil on Earth to that found on the fourth planet from the sun.

All of the plants in the Mars-inspired garden are intended for human consumption.

“It is a reality that at some point, if man goes to Mars, they will need to...

FSD Resources