By Jana Persky
As Stern Hall dining manager Tom Skipworth walks past the dessert station, a student intercepts him.
“Thank you for the food, man,” the Donner resident says, exchanging a fist bump with Skipworth. “We had an awesome weekend!”
Skipworth asks about the ski conditions in Tahoe, checking to make sure that everyone was well fed on the dorm’s ski trip weekend. After chatting with the student for a few more minutes, Skipworth notices that the burrito line is backing up and excuses himself to start serving guacamole.
Stern Dining’s reputation has improved dramatically among students this year compared to previous years and Skipworth is a huge part of that, bringing better quality food and a new staff to the hall.
“A lot of my senior friends will come from other dining halls to eat at Stern, which has never happened before,” said Calah Hanson ’13, a three-year Casa Zapata resident. “In the past, usually it was people leaving Stern and going to other dining halls.”
Stern residents, including Casa Zapata Resident Fellow (RF) Chris Gonzales Clarke, cited the new staff as the biggest reason for change in Stern’s reputation.
“Most of the cooking staff and the people that I know have always been super conscientious and really good, but sometimes the management hasn’t always matched that,” Clarke said. “Now it seems to be a good team.”
Skipworth and Chef de Cuisine Manuel Gallardo were hired by Stanford Dining to work in Stern before the 2012-13 school year began.
Clarke said that early in the year, Skipworth and his staff made an extra effort to show students new offerings and bring them food to taste. Other students commented that staff members would often greet them by name and ask about their day, improving the entire dining hall experience.
“Tom [Skipworth] does a really good job of customer service,” Vijay Singh ’16 said. “He always checks in on how the food is.”
Zoe Wolford ’14, resident assistant (RA) in Serra, said that she has enjoyed working closely with Skipworth and Stern hospitality manager Saul Cardenas, especially to plan an authentic Southern-style tailgate before a football game this fall.
“Tom said that he would personally prepare all the food for me, make mashed potatoes up to my standards, make sure the fried chicken was cooked in a southern fashion and even make sweet tea better than mine,” Wolford said. “Tom and the Stern dining staff prepared all of our food and had it ready for our tailgate at 10 in the morning. It was delicious.”
With improved customer service came improved meal quality.
Laura Pulido ’13, peer health educator (PHE) at Casa Zapata, said that Stern used to be known as the dining hall “where they serve food to massive amounts of people and don’t really pay attention to quality.”
“I never thought it was that bad, but it has definitely improved,” she added.
According to surveyed students, both the food and the atmosphere have improved at Stern this year. Stern residents particularly enjoy Cardinal Sage, the Latin American and Mexican food station that serves burritos. Other popular options include the breakfast offerings and the sandwich station.
“I had heard that the Stern dining hall was really bad, probably one of the worst ones on campus,” said Burbank resident Tammy Chin Loy ’16. “But I eat breakfast here every single day, and the breakfast is amazing.”
Clarke noticed celebrity chef Mark Miller’s influence in updating the Latin American and Mexican offerings at Stern.
“The Latin American types of food were always good and always welcomed,” Clarke said. “But after [Miller] came, the dishes became even more complex and more interesting, and it upped the quality quite a bit.”
Miller, founder of Coyote Café in Santa Fe, partnered with Stern Dining last year to open Cardinal Sage.
According to student reports, Stern’s new reputation has led to longer lines at the dining hall. Residential & Dining Enterprises did not respond to a request for the number of visits Stern has received this year, but surveyed students all agreed that wait times were slowly growing longer.
“More and more people have been recognizing that the food there is good, so they want to come,” Singh said. “But tell anyone reading this to stay out of Stern!”