New director of dining to set new goals to benefit students

latoya fondren

Keiaena Williams, kinesiology freshman, Lachele Donn, biology freshman, Kayla McDade, radiology freshman, enjoy their food at Mesquite Dining Hall Tuesday, Jan 16, 2018. Photo by Francisco Martinez
Keiaena Williams, kinesiology freshman, Lachele Donn, biology freshman, Kayla McDade, radiology freshman, enjoy their food at Mesquite Dining Hall Tuesday, Jan 16. Photo by Francisco Martinez

The sound of fresh fruit blending and the warm smell of grilled chili lime chicken fill the air in Mesquite Dining Hall as chefs prepare for the spring semester under the leadership of the new director of dining hall services, Kevin Chafins.

“I’ve been doing food service since I was 16 years old. I started in a restaurant as a host and a buffer, went from there to serving and bartending hourly, managing shifts. Went through several different restaurants back in Albuquerque. That’s where I from,” Chafins said. “You don’t choose food service, food service chooses you. Nobody grows up saying, ‘I want to be a restaurant manager.’ It just happens.”

Trevonne Bradford, psychology junior, said she expects the dining hall staff to be open to feedback from students.

“The food could use more flavor and [I hope the dining hall staff] actually ask students what they’d like to see and prefer to eat so food won’t be wasted,” Bradford said.”I liked the opportunity given for students to showcase their cooking skills in Mavericks Corner of their favorite cultural dishes.”

Terron Mccullough, art senior, said he would like the Mesquite Dining Hall to have televisions and for both dining halls to serve the same menu of food.

“When the school split the dining halls, sometimes the better tasting food is only in one dining hall rather than both,” Mccullough said.”I like the salad bar in Mesquite because everything you need for a salad is there and there’s always a chef there when you need one.”

Chafins said his marketing team will send out surveys for students to voice their opinions about the dining halls within the next month.

“We’ve put some new residential standards in place with Mesquite, which is presentation,” Chafins said.”Our focus now is really fresh ingredients with fresh garnishes we don’t want to do fake plastic foods or anything like that out there just to fill up a space. If it’s going to be something, it’s going to be something that’s real and edible,” Chafins said.

Kristi Schulte, director of residence life and housing, said she would like to merge dining and Residence Life together so that students can have experiences connecting with other students and faculty members on campus.

Schulte said, “Students have a few options that they can to share their feedback about the dining services, such as a number on the napkin holders in the dining halls called ‘Chatback.’ [This is] where students can send [access] instant feedback, a dining survey that launches every semester and a food committee for students to take a look at the trends of the dining hall as a whole.”

Schulte echoed Chafins and said there is a greater emphasis on presentation that students have to look forward to with the new changes to dining.

“The biggest thing students will notice is the presentation of what their seeing in the dining hall. There is a smoothie bar. There are more fresh options so, visually, you see more bright colors and things that are visually more appealing overall,” Schulte said.

Chafins said the biggest strengths of the dining hall is the staff because everyone is invested in their roles and they strive to ensure students that they’re working as a team.

However, Chafins said one of the weaknesses of the dining hall staff is the lack of challenge and direction.

“Everybody here is invested in what their doing, which I think is an awesome thing because any challenge that I can put out to them, they’re going to meet and exceed,” Chafin said. “The ultimate goal is good food because we need students to want to eat and if they don’t eat here and we don’t have a job. If the students aren’t happy, were not going to be here so it’s doing what we can to reach out.”

Jim Summers, supervisor of Mesquite Dining Hall, encourages students to give feedback on the smoothies at the smoothie bar.

“I hope everyone likes it. This is new and it’s a little different, we’re taking suggestions from everyone,” Summers said.

Chafins said he wants students to explore different foods and have the positive experience of trying something new.

“Food is one of those things that can give people such a huge positive feeling,” Chafins said. “They don’t call it comfort food for no reason, food is comforting. So being able to do that and potentially open up the boundaries of people who may have not eaten middle eastern cuisine, or mediterranean cuisine and being able to give them the opportunity to go that direction and try something brand new is always fun.”

With all of the new changes that students can expect, Chafins said his focus is on putting the students first and making sure they’re happy.

Chafins said one of his goals is to make sure that students are staying on campus through improving the dining hall experience in the areas of credit card machines and satisfactory service.

“Parking is always a challenge everywhere you go. So not having to leave campus to go get food because you can’t use your card or because you don’t like the service [is what we want],” Chafins said. “It’s bringing the value back to everybody, which is going to be the biggest push this semester.”

Bradford said the way to getting better food is by a happy staff.

Bradford said, “I want to see happy chefs and nothing else. When you’re happy the food tastes better.”