JOIE SCHOONOVER has transformed dining services at the UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON, by:
• SPEARHEADING the construction and opening of two major facilities, both of which opened this year, while simultaneously working on three more construction projects
• CHANGING the department’s foodservice systems to adapt to the needs of the department’s new operations
• LEADING a major staff restructuring, which decreased the number of layers of people between Schoonover and her managers
• IMPROVING purchasing practices by combining vendor contracts and implementing a cycle menu, which helped forecast ordering more accurately
Joie Schoonover, University of Wisconsin, MadisonJoie Schoonover has been a busy woman. In just four years as director of dining and culinary services at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Schoonover basically has reinvented the foodservice program. She led a team that opened two major projects this year, while simultaneously planning three more renovations. The department also completely changed its management structure and revised operational systems such as inventory and purchasing. Looking back, Schoonover acknowledges, “There’s not much that’s the same as it was four years ago.”
Patrick Pawelski, unit manager, says he thinks it is Schoonover’s ability to make all employees feel empowered that has led to the department’s success.
“She believes in allowing her staff to make tough decisions,” Pawelski says. “The amount of planning and work that was involved [in opening the new facilities] was unreal. I don’t know too many people who could have stayed sane, functional and dependable throughout this entire process, but she did.”
New spaces: Opening two major facilities at the same time is something other directors might find daunting, but Schoonover was not only able to open the two locations, she was able to keep things on track for the opening of three more operations in the next two years. The two new marketplaces are Gordon Dining and Events Center and the Four Lakes Market at Dejope Hall. Gordon also houses meeting space and the department’s central production with a cook-chill area and bakery.
Each facility offers a variety of the department’s self-branded concepts. Gordon features a marketplace comprising Bean & Creamery (coffee and ice cream), Flamingo Run (c-store), Capital City Pizza, Buona Cucina (pasta and Italian entrées), Fired Up (grill), Global Kitchen (international fare), Que Rico (Tex-Mex), 1849 (comfort foods), Delicious (deli), Great Greens (fresh salads and soups), Buckingham Bakery (desserts) and Eggcetera (all-day breakfast).
Four Lakes has a number of the same concepts, as well as Maki Mono, which offers noodle bowls and sushi. Despite some similarities in food offerings, the two locations have two distinct atmospheres.
“For Gordon, we really wanted it to be a place where students could hang out,” Schoonover says. “It has an urban kind of feel to it. There is a two-story fireplace, and one wall is two stories of glass that will eventually overlook a green space. The feel at Four Lakes is very serene and quiet.”
Schoonover says managing two projects simultaneously meant that staff couldn’t consider each location individually. They had to look at what it was going to take to execute both. At the same time, the department had to be cognizant of three other projects coming down the road. So how did they do it? Staff involvement and buy-in was key.
“We had our full-time staff reviewing the plans while we were designing things, trying to get their buy-in, but seeing really is believing,” Schoonover says. “Each management team had to be engaged with its whole staff to run its project because I can’t run five projects. We spent three hours each week doing planning. Then our staff meeting was two hours the next day. I think that’s why the opening has been successful. The other projects coming up are much smaller, so the staff had the opportunity to learn from the larger projects.”
Those other projects include Carson’s, which is a gut renovation of a building built in the 1920s. That project will reopen in June 2013 with concepts similar to Gordon and Four Lakes and an atmosphere that takes its cues from the history of the building. Schoonover says by January 2014 all of the department’s locations will either be new or remodeled.
“I didn’t get here and say we need all these new facilities,” Schoonover says. “I was fortunate that I inherited a very strong structure. University Housing has always done a great job of planning around the master plan. I walked in and got to execute those plans.”
Revising systems: Schoonover hasn’t just been busy building. Many other operational changes had to be made to aid in the transition to these new facilities.
“First, we changed our inventory methods,” Schoonover says. “We now take a weekly inventory versus monthly. We’re also more accurate in counting everything during inventory. If you count things correctly, then you are not over-ordering or wasting food.”
The department also started using forecast-based purchasing. Schoonover says that was only possible because the department implemented a cycle menu, allowing it to forecast orders more accurately.
“When you don’t have [a cycle menu], you don’t have a purchasing history to compare to,” Schoonover says. “That makes it really difficult to place accurate orders. We used to place orders 10 days in advance. I’ve been doing this a long time and I had never heard of placing orders 10 days out, so I knew that had to change. We were able to reduce that time to ordering today for tomorrow. Some items have to be ordered two days in advance. But by using the cycle menu forecast and working with our prime vendor’s online warehouse, we were able to reduce the amount of time our managers spent on ordering.”
Entering into a new prime vendor contract also helped streamline purchasing. Schoonover says the department used to have a lot of contracts aside from the prime vendor agreement. Some of those were combined into the prime vendor contract. Another time-saving switch: hiring an outside vendor to select the product mix for the campus c-stores. Because this vendor’s primary focus is c-stores, it can do a product plan for the department.
Other changes included moving to cook-chill preparation for items like soups, taco meat and pasta sauce, which allows the department to offer a wider variety of menu options.
“When I got here the staff just didn’t know any different,” Schoonover says. “I have a lot of longevity in my staff. They knew things needed to be different, but they didn’t know how to fix it. We’ve been able to fix those things, and it’s made our department more efficient.”
As a result of these system changes, the department was able to avoid an overall price increase for four years. The dining plan is à la carte with a membership fee, which Schoonover says basically covers overhead costs. While the overhead price has increased in the past four years, the department hasn’t done a blanket price increase.
Staff structure: When Schoonover came to Wisconsin in 2008—after stints at the University of Iowa, the University of Missouri, Knox College and University of Wisconsin, Platteville—she noticed there were a lot of layers in the department’s management structure, which didn’t jibe with her management style.
“I’m definitely not a hierarchical manager,” Schoonover says. “I brought in Julaine [Kiehn] and Jim Korner as consultants and we interviewed the management team to develop a new structure that would make sense for these new buildings. At one point, if you went from an assistant manager to me [there were] like six layers. Now it’s assistant manger, unit manager and me.”
As part of the process, the managers talked with the HR director and Schoonover, which gave them the opportunity to tell upper management what they’d like to be doing and where.
“We were able to move people where it made the most sense,” Schoonover says. “The full-time staff had the opportunity to tell us—if their position was going to exist in the new structure—if they wanted to stay where they were. If their position didn’t exist in the new structure, they could interview for a different position equal to their level or apply as a candidate for promotion. Now we have more managers out on the floor. There were previously 120 positions including managers—now there are 136.”
Brad Krakow, project manager for The CBORD Group, Inc., who worked with Schoonover on improving the department’s ordering process and menu forecasting, says the transformation that Schoonover has managed during her tenure is staggering.
“Reorganizing her entire professional staffing structure is just [one] multi-year Joie-driven initiative that she supported with both internal and external expertise,” Krakow says. “She presented and sold a vision of professionalism and an outcome of excellence and did not let it go. All of Joie’s efforts represent careers for some foodservice directors. Joie is just getting started.”