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The end of an era at Suites Dining

Chef Frank Hassan, shown here cooking in his beloved Bollard Eating Club, is set to lose his job at the end of this academic year. (MEHMET INONU/The Stanford Daily)

Chef Frank Hassan, shown here cooking in his beloved Bollard Eating Club, is set to lose his job at the end of this academic year. (MEHMET INONU/The Stanford Daily)

This is the first part of a long-form article on the University’s decision to end student management at the Suites Eating Clubs. Click here to view parts two, three, and four.

Frank Hassan has been head chef in Suites’ Bollard Eating Club for seven years, and he specializes in making two things: an incredible breakfast and memories.

It’s the former you’ll get if you walk into Bollard between 7:30 and 9:15 a.m. weekday mornings, where dozens of students chatter under an enormous banner – erected by unknown admirers at some point over the past decade – featuring Frank’s beaming face and the club’s informal title: “The Bollard Empire.”

But it’s the memories that last, and over the three years I’ve eaten and worked at Suites, I’ve picked up quite a few: Frank volunteering to wake up two hours early to have breakfast ready for the track team by 5:30 a.m. the days we left early for out-of-state meets; Frank and I watching the Mubarak regime fall on the Bollard TV while he offered keen political observations on his native Egypt; the way he enthusiastically greets every male student with a heavily accented “my main man!” and every female with a “good morning, beautiful”; Frank giving my mom a big hug when I brought her to Bollard to visit during my junior year.

I’ll take those memories with me when I finally leave Stanford this spring. It’s hard enough knowing I may never come back, but this year is an especially difficult one in which to say goodbye. That’s because next fall – for the first time in eight years – Frank Hassan may not be coming back either.

***

Residential Education (ResEd) has four offices and 39 professional employees, and the ResEd Central Office is located on the second floor of Tresidder Union, in Suite 9.

Ever since ResEd first assumed responsibility for paying Suites Dining’s student workers in the fall of 2010, I’d been visiting the Central Office every few weeks to pick up my paycheck for cleaning the kitchens. I needed the money and I kept on coming back, so when I walk up the spiral staircase and through the clear glass door, I smile and wave to Alyssa Ray, the Central Office’s friendly and familiar administrative assistant.

This time, however, I’m not here to pick up a paycheck. I’m here to meet with Dean of ResEd Deborah Golder, ResEd Associate Dean Nate Boswell ’99 M.A. ’09 and ResEd Director of Operations Aaron Buzay.

On Jan. 30, Boswell and Buzay sent an email to ResEd’s Suites student email list informing all residents that next year – for the first time since Suites Dining was founded in 1982 – students will no longer run Suites’ four eating clubs. They will be replaced, due to what the email described as “health and safety concerns” and “a pressing desire to lower the board rate,” with an outside corporation.

Avanti, Beefeaters, Bollard and Middle Earth have served food to Suites residents six days a week for the past 30 years under student management, which is currently provided by the student-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit Governor’s Corner Dining Societies (GCDS). One chef runs each eating club and is assisted by a student CEO and CFO who oversee all four clubs, eight student managers (two per eating club) and a team of paid student “hashers” (that’s me) who clean the kitchens before and after meals.

Frank has cooked in Bollard for seven years. Dennis has been head chef in Beefeaters for 22. Tony has led Avanti for 18 years. And Caroline is new to Middle Earth this year, having recently moved to the area with her husband and two kids.

As part of the move to corporate management, the chefs’ contracts are not being renewed.

I want to know why, and it’s the chefs I’m thinking about as I shake hands and sit down with Boswell, Buzay and Golder.

The conversation begins pleasantly enough, although they tend to use a lot of bureaucratically vague sentences with the words “moving forward,” “sustainable” and “conversation” thrown in. But something Golder says about the selection process for the new, non-student contractor rubs me the wrong way.

“We always involve students in decision-making,” she says.

This is news to me. In fact, the first time ResEd notified all Suites residents that they were considering replacing student leadership with a corporate contractor was when Boswell and Buzay sent the email informing residents that the decision had already been made. I decide to point this out.

“How have you involved students in decision-making up to this point? I mean, besides the managers, have you gotten feedback from students at Suites on this?”

Buzay looks confused.

“You mean have we run, like, a… a survey?”

“No, I mean what have you done? I know you haven’t run a formal survey, but have you talked to students at Suites about this change?”

“So we sent out… we sent out the email to the Suites community…”

“Right. So up until the point you sent the email, though, you hadn’t talked to any students in Suites besides the CEO and CFO?”

There’s more talk of “moving forward” and “sustainable business,” from which I conclude that the answer to my initial question is “no.”

Fortunately, a survey that asked Suites residents if they approved or disapproved of the proposed change had been sent out to the Suites email list – just not by ResEd. I know, because I created it. It took me approximately five minutes to draft.

149 Suites residents answered the poll, and 143 of them – 95.97 percent – disapproved of ResEd’s decision to contract food services to an outside vendor and not to renew the current chefs’ contracts.

(LORENA RINCON-CRUZ/The Stanford Daily)

I had made a comments section available on the survey form, and I’m interested to know what Boswell, Buzay and Golder think of the student opinions they never solicited. I decide to read a few representative student responses aloud.

“Number one: ‘I am very disappointed with the decision from ResEd to take over contracting and management of Suites Dining. I do not like that our chefs are being treated in this manner. They have put years of dedication and service into their jobs and Stanford.’

“Number two: ‘As far as I know, this decision from ResEd was reached with no consultation from the general student community in Suites, which is undemocratic, unaccountable and unacceptable.’

“Number three: ‘The students who run Beefeaters and Dennis provide the best dining service found on campus. All the outside corporations that I have seen on campus come in sub-par to the standards at the Eating Clubs, and I think this is a bureaucratic and stupid decision.’

“What would you say to that?” I prompt the ResEd administrators.

There’s a very, very long silence.

Continue to part 2

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