When the COVID-19 outbreak forced Oberlin’s student body to return home and finish the spring semester by remote learning, Campus Dining never interrupted meal service to the 250 students—most of whom are international—who had to remain on campus due to travel or financial restrictions.
Bon Appetit Management Company, Oberlin’s food provider, has spearheaded a partnership with local eateries to provide a carryout meal once a week using a regular meal swipe.
Edward Michalski, director of operations for Bon Appetit, explains that the idea came from students and other administrators who were brainstorming ways to provide outreach to the community and improve the experience of students who remain on campus.
Third-year Wenling Li and second-year Ryo Adachi suggested Kim’s Grocery as an option and provided input with retail and menu ideas. With that, Campus Dining Services (CDS) purchased an abundance of grocery items at retail and built bags consisting of ramen or a rice bowl for the entree, a side item, a dessert, and a beverage. The trial run launched March 20 with 25 students participating. The following Friday, CDS worked with Kim’s to design a meal program with their $5 rice bowls.
Michalski says the meal program—which has been branded Oberlin Choose Local—has expanded to include Aladdin’s Eatery, Black River Cafe, and Oberlin Kitchen. A different restaurant will be featured each Friday and will continue to the end of the semester.
“I think the partnership with Kim's has been very successful because many students like going there, and it was nice to have something new while everyone is staying in their dorm rooms, not having much to do,” says Adachi, an economics major. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with other local restaurants, and I have heard from some of my friends on campus who are excited for that as well.”
A student interface and Google order form developed by CDS staff member Candy Tollett has streamlined the process for both students and restaurants. Students choose a pickup time and their menu selection using the Google form, and the order is fulfilled at the restaurant.
“The program grew really fast,” Michalski says, noting that the first week started with 86 orders and grew to more than 150 by the third week. “The students are really engaged with it, and we’ve made the process user friendly. We look forward to working with and supporting local vendors and offering students the best campus experience during this unprecedented time.”
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