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

Menu Development
sam kass peter romeo

We’ve heard it time and again—millennials are extremely conscious about what they eat. They want to know what is in their food, where it is from, how it was made and more. And, as we’re learning, Gen Zers are even more aware and information-demanding about the food they eat than their older counterparts.

Hitting those higher-quality food standards is no easy feat. But it’s becoming a must, said chef Sam Kass—known for being the White House chef for the Obamas, a senior White House policy advisor on nutrition policy while he cooked, and currently the senior food analyst for NBC News...

Sponsored Content
chicken veggies recipes

From Tyson Food Service.

With operators becoming increasingly strapped for time and labor, it’s a strain to prepare every aspect of a menu item back-of-house or keep the menu populated with a variety of options. While it doesn’t mean they have to cut corners when developing new items, operators can use more versatile items that are simple enough to apply across the menu to save on labor and cost as well as be more efficient.

With versatile proteins, operators can increase menu opportunities without kitchen complexity, and drive new customer traffic or increase the number...

Industry News & Opinion

An audit into Kennesaw State University’s dining services revealed the university accrued roughly $2 million from off-campus students paying for meal plans as part of their semester fees, according to a report by Fox 5 Atlanta .

Meal plans at the Kennesaw, Ga., university are automatically assessed to students whether they live on campus or not. The university does not refund unused meals, draining the pockets of commuter students each semester.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we pay all this tuition and then we’re here paying another big fee,” commuter student Emmanuel...

Industry News & Opinion

As part of a 10-year contract to run Eastern Michigan University’s foodservice, Chartwells will invest $5 million in the Ypsilanti, Mich., university, as well as provide it with $18 million in capital improvements, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press .

The university’s board of regents approved the contract on Tuesday, citing the new revenue as an opportunity to expand and improve campus foodservice. EMU’s website indicates the partnership will allow for more student input as well as the introduction of food trucks and improved technology.

“The primary reason...

FSD Resources