Students may have noticed a new face in the cafeteria this fall, and with it comes new ideas about how dining services will operate.
Damien Lewis became the new general manager of Augustana College’s dining services this summer after previous general manager Craig Pearson was let go from Sodexo.
Damian frequented the college this spring to help lead the dining services when Pearson departed from Sodexo.
On that note, dean of students Jim Bies said, “It was a Sodexo decision and it was a human resources related decision that is confidential.”
Lewis was hired during the selection process this summer, which was arranged through a collaborative effort between Sodexo and Augustana.
“Damian threw his hat in the ring,” Bies said. “He was a choice we at Augustana were really excited about.”
Lewis grew up in Sheldon, ND and earned a degree in Computer Information Systems and Computer Science from Valley City State University. He worked in the kitchen’s washroom and advanced to the position of student manager of dining services. Before graduating, Marriott Management Services, then partnered with Sodexo, asked him to stay on.
“My dad always taught me it’s easier to find a job when you have a job,” Lewis said. He went on to be the catering and retail manager at Concordia University, St. Paul before becoming the general manager at Mayville State University. From there, Lewis returned to Valley City State University as general manager for six years before a move to Moorhead State University for another five years.
“He really brings a lot of experience,” Bies said. “He’s implementing lessons learned from other places to make the best choices for our dining hall.”
Now Lewis is bringing all of his experience to Augustana. “I looked at this opportunity as a new opportunity … something to get my creative juices flowing.”
Due to his familiarity with Augustana’s account, Lewis said he was excited for the change.
Bies said, “He kind of just fell in love with the place and the great opportunities he had to interact with our student population.”
“I knew a lot of the employees that are here and I knew that Augie has a great sense of community” Lewis said. “I had that when I was the general manager at VCSU, but I didn’t have that at Moorhead.”
In restyling dining services, Lewis said Augustana has a great basis already. “There is great staff here and a great group of culinarians that produce great food that is restaurant quality,” Lewis said.
As far as limitations, Lewis said, “I see a dated facility, one that does need a remodel but in the world we live in we don’t always have money for that.”
However, it’s not what was already here, but what Lewis can add that excites him about the program. Lewis wants to bring an entertainment factor to the commons building.
“I call it the four walls syndrome,” he said. “What is your favorite restaurant? So, imagine if you had to eat there breakfast, lunch and dinner for an entire day. Now seven days. Now an entire semester. Now think for four years. You’re still in the same four walls. After a while it gets boring and then the food doesn’t taste as good.”
Lewis talked about bringing in theme meals. Rather than specialty item nights students saw last year, he intends to spread a theme throughout the selection, such as a movie night or rock and roll theme.
Many changes have taken place already. Lewis and his team have added a station for special diets, allowing students with allergies to have a safe hub of food to build a meal from.
“I really like the special diets and vegetarian station even though I’m not on those diets,” junior Lance Shaull said.
“I like the label things, because then you can see what you’re eating, and it makes them more accountable for the foods we’re eating,” junior Emily Huntley said.
Item identifiers have been added by the food on small cards, as opposed to nutritional information cycling on televisions overhead. These identifiers offer another change by Sodexo as well.
“90 percent of all the identifiers we have out have barcodes on them,” Lewis said.
An app called MyFitnessPal is now paired with the dining experience in the commons. “Basically it’s to help you maintain your healthy eating,” Lewis said. “It tells you how many calories you have for the day right on your phone. It’s just one of the ways for people to watch what they’re eating.”
“We’re doing a new set of menus called fresh,” he said. This spurred the change many have noticed in the pizza and grill stations, offering more variety instead of the staples many students used as backups. Shaull expressed that in this front, the main thing he’s noticed is long absences of any food, rather than the added variety.
As he strives to improve Augustana’s dining experience, Lewis wants students to know he is here to serve them. “I’m very approachable,” he said. “Stop by my office or just come say hi.” The dining services offices are located through the door on the left at the top of the stairs by the cafeteria entrance.