How Ithaca College found power in partnerships

When Ithaca's foodservice team went self-op, Cornell University and other community allies stepped up to help.
Photograph courtesy of Ithaca College

Last March, Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., announced that it would switch from a contract foodservice provider to a self-operated program for the first time in school history.

With only the summer months to prepare, Ithaca’s foodservice team forged a partnership with nearby Cornell University, whose own dining program encompasses 29 campus eateries and a staff of over 400.

"I saw this as an opportunity to be a great neighbor and community partner," says Cornell Dining Executive Director Dustin Cutler, adding that his team is “happy to be working with Ithaca College to help them develop their own flavor."

While students were on summer break, the two teams met to share best practices and resources to ensure that Ithaca students would find a new and improved dining program when they returned in the fall. Here’s how they did it.

Starting from square one

While Ithaca owned the equipment inside its 12 campus eateries, all intellectual property was lost after making the switch to self-op. 

“We had no policies, no operating procedures, no best practices and really nothing in terms of an employee handbook or expectations or anything,” says Executive Director for Auxiliary Services David Prunty. Cornell shared its policies and procedures so Ithaca could have a reference when building its own. “We didn't copy it, obviously, but it gave us something to work from in terms of creating expectations and standards for our dining employees at all levels,” he says. 

"I saw this as an opportunity to be a great neighbor and community partner. It turned out to be a great chance to learn from each other this summer.” —Dustin Cutler

The menu database also had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Ithaca sought to seize on local partnerships, teaming up with Ithaca-based software company CBORD to set up its recipe database and getting some menu ideas from Cornell Dining.

“We would never have been able to open if we didn't have that resource because we wouldn't have had the time to build it on our own,” Prunty says of the recipes Cornell shared. 

Cornell also acted as a sounding board when Ithaca was looking to make big changes, such as converting one of its dining halls to a retail-focused concept. “We have lots of reasons based on historical data to do that, but it was still a risk,” Prunty says. “[Cornell] was really helpful to say, ‘Yeah, great idea, because think about this, think about that.’”

Looking ahead

While the initial phase of the partnership is over, the dining teams are still looking for ways to collaborate in the future.

Prunty says his team would like to invite Cornell Dining staff over to do some hands-on culinary training and is interested in sourcing milk, ice cream, yogurt and cheese from the Cornell Dairy.

“We're still meeting,” Prunty says. “There’s conversation happening if not weekly, every month.

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