Century Explores New Opportunities to Provide Food Service to Students

Century Explores New Opportunities to Provide Food Service to Students

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Century College had to cease its food service operations. Due to the lack of foot traffic, vendors were losing money and so was the College. Along with their cafeteria service, vending machines were also not receiving business due to nobody being present on campus. As they did at other colleges and universities across the country, these food service operations shut down during the rest of the 2020-2021 school year and remained closed during the 2021-2022 school year. 

But as the campus reopened in 2022-2023, the Century cafeteria on West Campus remained shuttered and dark. The Century bookstore sold sandwiches made at St. Paul College, but some students, faculty, and staff were critical of the lack of food options available. 

As part of a class assignment in spring, 2022, Century student JoMarie Marks conducted a survey to gauge public opinion about the available food options at Century. Over 100 people responded. “People wanted food that was more accessible and inclusive than the limited options at the bookstore and vending machines available on West Campus,” she said. “I decided to write a recommendation document for Century College to re-open the West Campus Cafeteria because I heard from so many people on campus how beneficial that need to be met would be.” 

According to Marks, President Millender responded directly to her recommendation, explaining that the College had been unable to find a vendor to operate the West Campus cafeteria. 

In a recent interview, Century Vice President of Finance and Administration A.K. Khan offered the same explanation. In the last full year before the pandemic, he said, there were approximately 9,000 people on campus. Even in 2022-2023, that number was still only approximately 5,000 and varied greatly week by week.  

“To have a successful sustainable food service, we need sustained foot traffic on campus,” Khan said. “There was not a vendor who was willing to come and serve the campus because they did not feel they were going to make a living.” 

The College did approach the previous vendor and also posted a request for proposals in academic year 2022-2023, but no one responded with interest. “Vendors need to ensure they can make money by selling their product and make a sustainable operation,” Khan said. “That is why the College was unsuccessful in identifying a vendor to operate food service on our campuses, not for the lack of us seeking a solution.” 

Khan said the College is committed to providing healthy and affordable food options for the Century community, and in the 2023-2024 academic year, he and other administrators have continued to experiment and search for a more sustainable model. 

In the fall of 2023, Century College decided to introduce food trucks onto campus. Throughout the fall, Century has partnered with several local small businesses, including Mi Sazon, Chef Lucas, D & D Goodies, Inferno Wood Fired Pizza and Waffle Bar Food Truck to provide lunch options on both East and West Campuses. 

For many, this was an exciting addition to the food services that Century College has provided. When asked about the campus’s response to the food trucks, Khan said, “It has been phenomenal.” 

Marks agreed. “I personally think that the food truck solutions have been a beneficial addition to the food choices available on Century,” she said. “I love that students, staff, faculty and visitors can support small businesses while enjoying yummy treats.” 

Marks added that the food trucks were not a sustainable solution year-round, since they can’t operate in the winter weather. 

Khan agreed it was not practical to maintain food truck service during frigid weather conditions, and food truck service will end in November. To continue serving our students with food and cafeteria service, Century College invited all of the food truck vendors to serve students inside on campus. Chef Lucas accepted the offer. “Chef Lucas wants to go into the next level of his service and his career, in which he would want to have a restaurant of his own and a place where he could serve his clients, his colleagues, and his friends,” Khan said. “This was the perfect opportunity and a win-win.” 

Century College wanted to create a space where food and community can support each other in a shared space. Khan explained, “If they are seeing the positive response from campus in their sales and if they want to be here, we want to help them in their success as well.” Chef Lucas’s “Woody’s Canteen” was introduced to what was formerly the East Cafeteria and opened on October 30th, 2023. Woody’s Canteen operates with standard menu offerings available, and a growing menu continuing to add more items and specials.  

However, this did not resolve the issue with food services on West Campus. With continued effort, the College has signed a contract with Mi Sazon Food Truck to meet the cafeteria service needs on the West Campus, Khan said. The College hopes to make an announcement about when hot food service will be offered on West Campus in the near future.   

In addition to the cafeteria service on both campuses, Century is installing Farmer’s Fridge on the West Campus. Offering an innovative solution to the issue, Farmer’s Fridge is a vending machine that provides students with fresh ready-to-eat meals in reusable glass jars. Some may have seen these vending machines in airports, college campuses, or other locations. Farmer’s Fridge will be located on the first floor of West Campus, near the cafeteria and the Connection, and will be available November 30th, 2023. 

Khan said that he wants to give these vendors time to succeed and all parties will come together to evaluate the results after the spring, 2024 semester. He hopes that their sales will be high enough to make their continued operation at Century sustainable.   

But Khan is optimistic. “These small business vendors are very in tune with our community,” he said. “They are very in tune with having healthy ingredients, and providing affordable options to our students. We want them to succeed.”

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