With more than 20 years of experience in the food service industry, Louis Cambeletta (’90) understands the business.
The customer should get what the customer wants.
Now Cambeletta, who has previously served as vice president of operations for two major restaurant chains, is using that expertise to transform Liberty University’s food service. He became Liberty’s first director of food service operations in January, with a mission to provide fresher, faster, and healthier meals for the students, faculty, and staff who pay for the school’s dining programs.
Cambeletta wants students to have more input into their dining options and has increased the number of students on the board of directors, which he plans to meet with monthly.
“We want to change the face of dining at Liberty,” Cambeletta said. “We want to give the students more variety than they’ve ever had before.”
In his new job, Cambeletta is the primary customer advocate for Sodexo, the main dining services provider on campus since the late 1970s. Cambeletta has worked with Sodexo to facilitate some significant changes for the Fall 2014 semester at the three primary on-campus dining venues: Reber-Thomas Dining Hall, Doc’s Diner, and Tilley Student Center.
“All three of those facilities are going to get major renovations this summer,” Cambeletta said.
With seating capacity for 2,200 customers, Reber-Thomas Dining Hall is by far the largest dining facility on campus. Cambeletta hopes a major face-lift this summer will make the facility even more of an attractive option to students.
A redesign will increase serving stations from nine to 14, each with at least two entry points for customers. Cambeletta would like to see the use of each station increase 15 to 50 percent.
“We are doubling the entry points to food stations,” said Lee Beaumont, Liberty’s senior vice president of auxiliary services. “We want to get people through quicker and reduce lines. It’s all about efficiency.”
In keeping with a campus-wide wellness initiative, Reber-Thomas will focus on serving fresher, more nutritious meals, many of which will be prepared outside the kitchen. The reconfigured dining room will include a large serving station where food is prepared right in front of the customer.
Another improvement will be a “training table” station designed primarily for athletes, serving high-protein foods and steamed vegetables, Cambeletta said.
Other stations will include a wellness serving area, a home-style barbeque area, and a beverage area, with smoothies included among the options. Beaumont said the university’s goal is to deinstitutionalize food service as much as possible.
“We want meals to be a more enjoyable experience,” he said.
Cambeletta said some of the improvements will come in the way meals are delivered.
“The students will see a lot of meat being cut and vegetables being prepared,” he said. “The students are actually going to be served by a cook out front.”
Liberty knows that food service improvements create a happier student body and a healthier workforce. Beaumont said statistics support the idea that a positive experience in the dining hall influences student performance in the classroom as well as student retention. The dining changes also call for expanded hours at Reber-Thomas and unlimited card swipes so that students can eat smaller, healthier meals.
Beaumont said long-range plans call for the school to build a new dining hall overlooking the lake near the quad on Liberty’s main academic corridor.
While Reber-Thomas is rearranging its existing dining space, Doc’s Diner will undergo a significant expansion. The eatery is the most convenient dining option for the 3,000 students who live on Liberty’s East Campus.
Cambeletta has worked with Sodexo to improve Doc’s Diner’s food delivery. In addition to adding 40 new seats to the dining room, the restaurant-style venue will add a new “To Go” serving station where customers can order meals via a smartphone app and pick them up en route to the main campus.
Moving the adjoining National Civil War Chaplains Museum to another location on campus will allow for more seating and make room for a light hors d’oeuvres buffet that customers may snack on while awaiting meals.
Doc’s Diner also hopes to entice more faculty and staff by offering employee discounts.
Perhaps the most significant dining-related construction project is happening at the Tilley Student Center in Green Hall. In recent years, Tilley has been a major hub for events sponsored by Liberty’s Student Activities Office and a location where students can eat and socialize.
The removal of a wall and a stage will allow additional seating for 150 students, while many of the events once held in Tilley will be moved into the adjacent, newly expanded LaHaye Student Union. With the stage gone, Tilley will be able to offer a new Italian serving station, a new smoothie bar, and more serving lines for SubConnection.
Cambeletta also hopes to add a kiosk where food can be ordered, and students will be notified by phone text when their food is ready.