Cafeteria Menu Offers Wider Range of Foods

El Vaquero Staff Writer

For those that are hungry for some food on campus, new changes to the cafeteria and additional food services are making choices a little more difficult, which is a good thing.

The cafeteria is currently working to increase patronage, “trying to find out what method will be most effective to inform students and staff of the changes, the new offerings and menu changes,” said Joy Cook, head of the Cafeteria Mini-Review Committee and associate dean of disabled student programs and services.

Many academic and nonacademic programs on campus, such as the cafeteria, are being reviewed because of budget problems. The Cafeteria Mini-Review Committee “has been working on solutions to make the cafeteria more self-supporting as well as the menus more appealing to students and staff,” Cook said.

Changes to the menu in the main cafeteria include a new line of sandwiches and salads. In addition to previously prepared salads, a salad bar with a limited number of items is being offered. “Clearly, people didn’t want prepared salads,” said Lawrence Serot, vice president of administrative services. “It is a modest addition done well.”

“They have also started making home-baked cinnamon rolls in the mornings,” said Cook. “Soon, they will add pizza to [the cafeteria’s] offerings – not Pizza Hut pizza – again a home-baked product.”

Below the cafeteria, on the right side of Subway, “where there was once oriental cuisine that never did well,” said Serot, a local Chinese food restaurant, Rice Garden, delivers food on Wednesday and Thursday and a Middle Eastern food restaurant, CafÇ Elegante, provides food on Monday and Tuesday. They are under contract with GCC to bring in food from their restaurants a few days a week to use the space.

Casa Ortega, which serves Mexican food such as burritos, nachos and quesadillas, had not disappeared from downstairs below the cafeteria. It had been moved up to the cafeteria for a while, due to staffing problems, so that the staff would be the same as those who worked in the main cafeteria. It is now downstairs again, where it has been profitable.

Other changes include the hours of operations. The times have changed so that the cafeteria serves in the afternoons as well as during lunch crowds. “The staff will be flexing their schedules to be more in alignment with the academic calendar and the needs of students and staff,” said Cook. A snack shop has also opened in the Verdugo Gym.
In the San Gabriel Plaza on Monday, the cafeteria opened a taqueria style grill at the window area in the Cimmarusti Science Center. They are serving tacos de carne asada, taquitos and other Mexican food in addition to serving pre-made sandwiches and snacks. “The food is authentic Mexican style,” said Cook.

These changes the cafeteria made is mainly due to the Cafeteria Mini-Review Committee, which is composed of administrators, faculty, staff and students who meet “to discuss changes, offer suggestions and review progress,” said Cook. Because of this committee, “the cafeteria is changing its menu, has a snack bar in the Verdugo Gym, started the taqueria in the San Gabriel Plaza and is looking for other changes as suggested.”

“Everything we do is with committees,” said Serot. “It’s a shared government [in which] everyone has a chance to get a say, including students.”

The changes were based on a few issues, including that “the cafeteria’s profits have not covered its costs for several years,” said Cook. “Due to the budget crisis in California, the college budget can no longer afford to augment the cafeteria’s budget; it must become self-supporting.”

A few years ago, while the cafeteria was self-supporting, two full-time employees and many part-time employees ran the cafeteria. Afterwards, the part-time employees were hired full-time and had benefits. Due to the budget deficit, the college laid off four full-time employees last year and the hourly staff was not rehired this year, “which helped [during the deficit],” said Serot.

“There was also a demand to keep prices low,” said Serot. Although students do not want to spend much money on food, there have been fewer comments from students who previously protested the price increases, Serot said.

“For a number of years, the college has accepted this deficit,” said Serot. “When the budget went bad three years ago, there were cuts to instructional programs.” Since money lost in the cafeteria deficit could have been used to add classes to the curriculum, “we want to go back to make cafeteria self-supporting,” Serot said. “We’ll see how it is at the end of the year.”

In addition, when the five-year contract for the small coffee shop in front of the San Rafael building, which rented the spot for $15,000 to $17,000 per year to help the cafeteria monetarily, was up, the Administrative Affairs Committee decided that there should be a new vendor.

The bookstore made a presentation, expressing that if they ran the coffee shop, now named CafÇ Vaquero, the money would go back into the funds from student fees to help the college. The coffee shop is now run by the bookstore, which started from scratch by investing in coffeemakers, refrigerators and all the materials needed to run the shop.

Many of these changes are also marketing tests to research and assess whether the Cafeteria fulfills students’ needs. The cafeteria experimented by offering Armenian and Chinese food to find out if they serving what students and staff wanted and they increased their hours of operation to assess whether they open at hours that met students’ and staff’s needs, said Cook.

“Students should give the ‘new’ cafeteria and food venues a try [and] watch out for signs on campus that will alert them to new products and menus,” said Cook. “It’s difficult to communicate with students who are constantly on the move, but [the college is] trying.”