A Chat with Leslie de Leon, Director of Business Services

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the link to the survey that GULC students and staff may use to provide feedback.  If interested, take a look at the survey here. 

Although you may not know her, you certainly know her work: the new patio complete with herb walls and a fountain, new furniture in the Market Café, the implementation of several notable food delivery innovations, and perhaps a few e-mails regarding EMV transitions.  As Director of Business Services and Auxiliary Operations, Leslie de Leon is behind the scenes of most of the major changes that have taken place within dining services over the past year.  Clearly passionate about her work and serving the students at Georgetown Law, Leslie sat down with me a week ago to discuss these changes and the forces behind them.

GULC  has contracted out its dining services to Bon Appetit Management Company for the past 14 years.  De Leon notes that as Bon Appetit, based in Palo Alto, California,  services companies such as Amazon and Google (not to mention numerous other universities, museums, and corporations), “the values are there.”  She’s right– Bon Appetit’s food is made from scratch and sourced locally, while individual chefs are given the freedom to create and serve at their discretion.  This discretion, however, is tempered by the company’s long and exacting list of standards that must be met by the chosen ingredients; one such standard, for example, requires chefs to source at least 20% of their ingredients within 150 miles.  De Leon points out that while Bon Appetit’s commitment to sustainability and local sourcing is admirable, students’ exit surveys and wish lists over the past year indicated that changes were necessary, and she took action.

One of these changes happened to be Brock Ormond, now the Executive Chef on campus.  Chef Brock is a graduate of S.U.N.Y.’s Culinary Arts, Baking Production, and Management Program who traces his desire to work in the food industry back to his upbringing within a sustenance farming community.  Ormond signed on with Bon Appetit in 2011 as the Executive Sous Chef at Goucher College, and was promoted two and a half years later to his current position at Georgetown.  His contributions are numerous, including contracting out to local farmers for ingredients, conducting an intensive retraining of the entire staff, and canning the jars of peppers you may have noticed scattered throughout the Market Café (according to Leslie, just something he likes to do in his free time).  Bon Appetit manager Michelle Mooney is also responsible for many of the positive changes that have taken place over the past semester, and works closely with the staff to execute the plans that stem from student requests.  Alongside Mooney, Chef Brock’s primary goal is to standardize the Law Center’s food service with that of Bon Appetit.

The new salad bar is only one such step towards standardization and a more comprehensive menu offering for law students.  Chef Brock and Mooney have used Brock’s local inroads to stock the island with produce from nearby farms and to offer fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, while a new partnership with Hampton Creek, which provides vegan cookies and condiments to the café, represents Bon Appetit’s commitment to addressing students’ dietary concerns and appreciation of mission-driven brands.  The salad bar, an expanded SushiDo (now with grab-and-go options!) and new global wok stations are all in response to students’ feedback requesting healthier, faster, and more varied options.  De Leon and her team continue to test out various permutations of wok and non-wok days in order to minimize wait time, but not to worry: no matter what happens, she promises that “Taco Tuesday is untouchable”.

De Leon recognizes that in the recent past, many students were unhappy with their dining options.  She notes that the changes implemented over the summer have largely been about “getting people’s trust back”, and hopes to tackle the challenges that remain, carefully balancing the dueling concerns of quality and speed.  The biggest issue at the moment, de Leon finds, is the size of lines at peak hours.  Growth of the student body without any corresponding café expansions have limited the ability of the team to expedite the checkout process, and the incorporation of new EMV cards has not eased the burden.  Whenever de Leon anticipates such an issue, she’ll try to warn students in advance; to this end, you may remember her polite e-mail earlier this semester requesting patience with the staff as they adapted to the new electronic chips.  She also finds solutions: this month, she hopes to convert one of the registers into a GOCard/ Cash only line in order to reduce volume at the other registers.  In a similar fashion, the Bon Appetit team has taken immediate action on concerns evidenced by recent exit surveys:  in the coming months they intend to reduce the wok menu, incorporate more vegetarian options, and rework the setup of the trail mix station and snack bar.

Avenue C (Legal Eats) represents the answer to another issue de Leon found to be plaguing students: lack of access to late-night food when studying.  The canteen, open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is located on the ground floor of the Williams Library, and is designed to provide healthier, more extensive options than did the two lonely vending machines that previously occupied the room.  Fully stocked with granola bars, Chobani yogurt, Peet’s coffee, and a microwave, Avenue C operates under the honor code system (somewhat…there are still security cameras) in an attempt to cut down on labor costs.  The self-checkout is straightforward with a manageable operator-interface that accepts most major credit cards.  While the registers don’t yet accept GOCards, de Leon hopes to achieve compatibility soon and has promised an e-mail notification upon completion.

A final challenge faced by Bon Appetit and the team at the Market Café was the reduction of food waste, a problem that concerned both students and staff.  In response, Bon Appetit entered into a partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank.  De Leon says that all leftover food meeting CAFB standards from catered events or the Market Café kitchen is donated to the DC Central Kitchen.

The moral of this story, if there is one, is to provide your feedback, positive or negative, to Bon Appetit and food services staff.  Past comments provided the impetus for the positive changes that took place over the summer and continue to shape the decisions of people like de Leon, who are truly committed to serving the student body at Georgetown University Law Center.  Leslie de Leon and Michelle Mooney welcome students to drop by their offices and provide feedback.  They’ve also provided a short survey for anyone who’d like to see their suggestions incorporated within the café: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8XXHTD3.

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