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

The USDA analyzed the efficacy of using Medicaid data to certify students for free or reduced-price lunch, a provision included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Participating states and districts reported conflicting data on changes in the percentage of students certified, number of meals served, federal reimbursements and certification costs.

The method is used as an alternative to household applications and data matching with other public benefit programs to streamline the certification of more low-income students. The program was first piloted statewide in Kentucky...

Ideas and Innovation
kids students cafeteria line

While summer feeding programs are commonplace in school districts across the country, foodservice operators still struggle to get the word out and kids in.

Many districts are scaling back or discontinuing their summer feeding programs due to low participation, citing staffing costs and other issues that make it difficult to break even and provide a profitable program.

“We need to find a way to encourage that participation,” Tom Freitas—foodservice director for Traverse City Area Public Schools in Traverse City, Mich.—told Record Eagle News . “We are open to ideas as long as...

Industry News & Opinion

Students and union representatives are petitioning Eastern Michigan University’s plan to outsource its foodservice operations, calling for the school to delay such a move to allow for further discussion with stakeholders, MLive reports .

EMU last week announced a tentative agreement to hand over its residential, catering and retail foodservices to Chartwells, a deal the university’s interim president avered would enable the school to expand and upgrade its eateries while maintaining high food quality, MLive says.

Opponents of the plan say they are concerned about what they...

Sponsored Content
whole grain pasta foodservice menu

From Barilla.

With younger consumers eager to explore new flavors and better-for-you options, whole-grain pasta is winning greater acceptance in American diets.

As more and more college and university students seek out whole grains in their meals, dishes featuring whole grains are on-deck to become menu mainstays.

At the University of Iowa, whole-grain foods have won general acceptance, says Barry Greenberg, executive chef for university dining. Two marketplace dining facilities on campus offer whole-grain pasta as a regular option and incorporate it into baked...

FSD Resources