Dordt says goodbye to Carrie Foods after 37 years

carrie_foods_shelby_herremaAfter 37 years as Dordt College’s food-service provider, Carrie Foods has been replaced by a new service called Creative Dining.

The change was made because administrators thought that “Creative Dining could do a better job,” said Arlan Nederhoff, Vice President of Business Affairs at Dordt College.

“They have a broader view of what is happening in the food industry,” Nederhoff said.

One of the big reasons that Dordt chose Creative Dining is because its mission fits with Dordt College, said Bethany Schuttinga, Associate Provost/Vice President for Student Services.

The core values of the company are integrity, transparency, family, flexibility, and sustainability, said Schuttinga. When Nederhoff and Schuttinga went to visit campuses which use Creative Dining, they saw those values come through.

The news saddened the staff and co-owners of Carrie Foods.

According to Jeremy VanDenBerg, co-owner of Carrie Foods, the company change came as a shock to the students and staff because there were no conversations with them that the food service operations were being evaluated.

VanDenBerg said that Carrie Foods was not formally evaluated or given expectations in May to meet for the upcoming year. All of the changes that took place this past year in the commons were done because Carrie Foods wanted to better serve the students at Dordt, VanDenBerg said.

Jonathan Sanny, student manager at the commons, said he was surprised by the news.

“It seemed to come as a shock to everyone,” Sanny said, “I didn’t see it coming.”

Nederhoff said Dordt administrators had a discussion with Carrie Foods in the Fall of 2011 after then-president Carl Zylstra said he was retiring. At this time, they changed Carrie Foods’ contract from a three-year contract to a one-year contract.

Nederhoff and Schuttinga met with Carrie Foods in May about the one-year extension, and they told Carrie Foods that they would be looking at other alternatives throughout the year, said Nederhoff in an interview with the Dordt Diamond on April 4.

Nederhoff later clarified in an email to the Dordt Diamond that during the meeting in May, Dordt informed Carrie Foods of the following: “The contract would not be renewed under the current terms, we would be talking with them about self-operation, and that we would also be seeking alternative proposals.”

VanDenBerg and Mike Oschner, co-owners of Carrie Foods, said they were told last May that Dordt was looking into changing the relationship between Carrie Foods and Dordt while looking at food-service options as a whole.

These options included Dordt operating the food system themselves with Oschner and VanDenBerg running it, changing the business relationship between Carrie Foods and Dordt, and looking at alternative proposals, said VanDenBerg.

VanDenBerg said he is frustrated by Dordt’s press relesase. The press release said that this change was “vetted through a multi-company proposal process over the past academic year.” VanDenBerg said that Carrie Foods wasn’t invited to be involved in that process.

English Professor, Bob De Smith, recently hosted an Early British Literature Conference at Dordt College, and Carrie Foods served the refreshments and a business lunch for the guests.

“I was very pleased with their service and enjoyed the fact that former students were part of the team,” De Smith said.

De Smith was surprised at how the campus community learned about the change in food-service providers. Like most others on campus, he stumbled across the news on DCC. He also said that he experienced the mission-related values in Carrie Foods that are being praised in the new provider.

“It is difficult to make a judgment because so little information is available, but it’s not clear to me that the change will be a good one,” De Smith said, “It’s also not clear whether the new provider will be a good community partner.”

De Smith pointed out that Carrie Foods is a current provider and a local business. “The announcement said nothing about a transition, so I must assume that the college did nothing to help current staff be considered by the new provider,” De Smith said.

Art Attema, Business professor at Dordt, said that Carrie Foods seemed quite surprised and shocked after the news of a new food-service. Attema said that he doesn’t have a problem looking at new food services; however, he questions the process of how the new food-service was put into place.

Attema thought that the situation was complex because of the new change in ownership at Carrie Foods and the fact that Carrie Foods has served Dordt for 37 years. Attema also pointed out that Carrie Foods has provided work for many community members.

“It is true that there has been discussion over the past few years over what Dordt should do about the food-service,” Attema said. “However, Carrie Foods does not seem to have been on the same page as the college,” he said.

Sanny said that staff members were sad to hear the news. On Friday, April 5, Sanny went to his usual afternoon shift in the commons. According to him, the cooks seemed quiet and sad that day. He later found out that Dordt College was not renewing its contract with Carrie Foods.

On Thursday, all the cooks were told about the situation and warned that they might possibly lose their jobs. “It was a downer of a day,” Sanny said.

Sanny explained that Carrie Foods is a close knit community within Dordt. “It’s like a family,” Sanny said, “I look forward to going to work.”

Sanny is worried what will happen next year, with a new company coming in with so many other locations.

Creative Dining was founded 23 years ago in a partnership with Hope College and Calvin College. They have grown to about 80 accounts in 12 different states. About 60 percent of the college institutions that Creative Dining serves are faith based, Schuttinga said.

“Creative Dining brings many more years of service and experience,” Schuttinga said.

Schuttinga and Nederhoff hope that the “family atmosphere” that Carrie Foods provides will continue on through Creative Dining.

According to Sanny, the employees of Carrie Foods genuinely care about Dordt and the students that they serve. He is concerned what will happen to all of the work-study students who are currently employed in the Commons and the Grille. Sanny said that a couple of the cooks have different jobs lined up for next year already.

Carrie Foods is giving 110 percent into one location,” Sanny said. He described the other company as giving 10 percent at all their different locations. Instead of being a family-oriented business, he thinks that it will be more industrial.

As of right now, neither Van Den Berg nor Oschner are sure about the future or whether or not Creative Dining will hire them or other staff.

As for the current workers and work-study students, Nederhoff said that Creative Dining will need people, and they won’t bring in all new people.

“I’m sure that they will be interested in hiring students,” Nederhoff said. He added that current staff might be hired as well.

“As a college, we are grateful for the dedication and 30 years of service that Carrie Foods has offered us,” Schuttinga said.

Amber Vis, Staff Writer

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