St. Olaf College is well-known for its dazzling array of study abroad programs, its food, its world-class music programs, and of course its annual Christmas Festival. On campus, this holiday is colloquially known as “Christmasfest” where Stav Dining Hall transforms into a Scandinavian Buffet serving delicacies such as Lutefisk and Lefsa to thousands of students and visitors. What you might not know, is that this attention to detail and service goes on behind-the-scenes every day of the year. One of the reasons St. Olaf College can offer such premier dining options to its students and guests is because of its partnership with Bon Appétit Management Company.
Bon Appétit operates over 1,000 cafés across 33 states, providing full food-service management to various institutions, including universities and corporations. In addition to St. Olaf, we’re proud to work with Bon Appétit to supply a variety of local food items to the dining halls at Carleton, Macalester, Medtronic, and Federated Insurance campuses too. The company has a dedicated mission to be a role model for responsible sourcing in the food service industry. They define food service for a sustainable future as “flavorful food that’s healthy and economically viable for all, produced through practices that respect farmers, workers, and animals; nourish the community; and replenish our shared natural resources for future generations.” With an ambitious goal of sourcing 20% of their food purchases regionally at each Bon Appétit site, our partnership is helping to meet that goal by building out the missing middle supply chain that is needed for local foods from small producers to make a big impact.
On a typical day, Stav Dining Hall caters to approximately 2,000 students and faculty and provides a variety of options, including vegetarian, vegan, and allergen-free choices. On our recent visit with Bon Appetit Chef Peter Ireland, we saw a station serving a vegan Lemon Ginger tofu stir-fry featuring MinnTofu, a product we source from Yan Small at MinnTofu and regularly ship out to St. Olaf and Carleton College. While our business with St. Olaf focuses primarily on eggs and proteins, their Chef also holds direct sourcing relationships with many of the farms in our network including Seeds Farm and Open Hands Farm, to name a few. We also learned that the chefs incorporate ingredients from the student-run STOGrow farm located on campus whenever possible.
While the front-of-house tour revealed a wonderful array of offerings that cater to students from all backgrounds, a tour of the back-of-the-house revealed limited space for produce prep—a common challenge observed with our institutional wholesale partners. The constraints around time, labor, and space highlight the difficulties institutions face in incorporating more local food, especially whole unprocessed produce, into their menus. While addressing these challenges is a larger issue, we acknowledge the potential benefits of offering processed produce as a solution, which could create even more market access opportunities for farmers in our region.
Bon Appétit’s commitment to partnering with food hubs nationwide aligns with the challenges faced by large food service operations in consistently sourcing fresh, local foods. While direct sourcing from farmers is an ideal scenario, it can present difficulties, especially when providing fresh foods in the volume and consistency required for large food service operations. This is where food hubs, like ours, offer valuable support through the aggregation of produce from smaller farms. This streamlined approach enables institutions to source reliably, easing logistical burdens, and expanding market access to more farmers, particularly those historically facing disadvantages in accessing resources compared to larger, well-established farms.
As the year comes to a close, our collaboration with Bon Appétit in Minnesota invested over $300,000 amount into the middle supply chain and stands as a solid benchmark for other institutions to work towards. For all the joy St. Olaf brings to its community during the holidays, we’re proud to sing praises for their stellar efforts to embrace local flavors on their menus all year round. For any Bon Appetit accounts in Minnesota looking for local purchasing assistance please contact our Wholesale Partnership Manager, and proud Ole, Micah, [email protected] to learn how we can partner together in 2024!