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

Dining hall workers at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., have been asked to remove stickers worn in protest of working conditions at the school’s dining halls, The Stanford Daily reports.

School officials say that the stickers with the statement “Respect and a Fair Workload” go against a union-university agreement that states union members may not wear “insignia [with] any message that is vulgar, profane, or disparaging of Stanford, or that results in conflict or disruption in the workplace.”

In a conversation with The Daily, Seth Leibson, senior organizer for SEIU...

Industry News & Opinion

The School Nutrition Foundation has named its five School Nutrition Heroes for 2018.

The honorees were nominated by their peers and then selected by the SNF for helping end hunger for homeless and low-income students and their families.

Those chosen are:

Paula Angelucci, child nutrition director, Colonial School District; New Castle, Del. Anthony Terrell, culinary specialist, Shelby County Schools; Memphis, Tenn. April Laskey, director of school nutrition, Billerica Public Schools; Billerica, Mass. Lynne Shore, food service director, Willamina School District;...
Sponsored Content
spring desserts

From Bistro Collection® Gourmet Desserts.

Consumers and operators alike often associate seasonal desserts with pumpkin pie, gingerbread and candy canes—after all, winter is a season closely associated with indulgence.

But after the winter holidays, when people are hitting the gym and holding themselves to New Year’s Resolution diets, desserts don’t get as much attention. For operators, this can mean a lag in sales of sweets—but it’s not a lost cause. Updating springtime dessert menus to reflect the change in what diners are looking for can generate excitement and boost...

Industry News & Opinion

Sidney Central School District in Sidney, N.Y., has received $58,783 from the state to improve its farm-to-school program, The Daily Star reports.

The grant will be used to aid in appointing a farm-to-school coordinator and assistant who will help source local farm products for 10 districts in the region for NY Thursday, an initiative where cafeterias attempt to serve meals made entirely by local ingredients every Thursday.

The funding is part of a $12 million award spread among 12 districts throughout the state by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Read the full story via...

FSD Resources