Starting this fall, Eric Thomas, Willamette's new general manager of Bon Appétit is bringing forth a new wind to the student dining experience.
Thomas’ hands-on experience in the food industry began when he was 14 years old. He worked as a local dishwasher at a pizza parlor, until he was promoted to a pizza maker. He began his management career in California in 2007, where he managed several restaurants and became a multi-unit general manager. Before coming to Willamette, Thomas worked as an assistant general manager at Lewis and Clark College.
As the new general manager at Willamette, Thomas now makes financial decisions and manages the assistant general manager, the chef, the sous chefs and the chef managers.
Thomas’ hiring is a crucial factor to the revival of Bon Appétit at Willamette and the daily meal plan that many students use. Since COVID struck campus life in 2020, Bon Appétit has been struggling with changing restrictions that impact open hours and other aspects of campus dining. Thomas envisions establishing changes that will better Bon Appétit and the student experience as a whole.
One significant change Thomas has planned is the removal of unnecessary waste by discontinuing plastic spoons, forks and boxes. “I know that everyone loves boxes, and I certainly understand why,” he said. However, besides the financial cost, he argues that in an all-you-care-to-eat model, “boxes were never intended to be a permanent thing.” It has led to a lot of waste because “people are taking more than what they’re going to eat.”
However, boxes are a necessity for students in need of a quick in-and-out experience. In an attempt to meet such demand, Thomas and his crew are focusing on shifting to take-out on the GET app, which provides the option to online order a meal and pick it up at Goudy at a designated time. The plan is to create a 30-minute time window for students to order lunch and arrange a time to pick it up. Initially, pick-ups will be “limited by the amount of meals that can be pushed out in a certain time period.” However, Thomas assured, “if we're selling more [meals], we can hire someone and then we can open it up.” The GET mobile app, accessible on the app store, is compatible with meal plans and flex dollars and will be available for lunch.
Thomas also plans to feature pop-up stands. which will happen on a semi-weekly basis. The stands will be assigned to a chef who may cook their own preferred dish: “They have their own pop up food cart for a day [where] they can really use their own creativity to showcase their skills,” said Thomas. He noted that chefs have different cultural dishes in mind from jerk chicken to a “very traditional, very authentic ramen.” Students are already beginning to see these changes—, with the most recent example being the Poke pop up near the entrance of Goudy a few weeks ago. Another exciting addition Thomas plans to implement is ice cream every Friday, including push-ups and ice cream sandwiches as well as sorbet as a vegan option.
Another issue Thomas will be addressing is dietary restrictions. For those with dietary restrictions, ensuring non-contamination is crucial, but having a fully allergen-free environment can be very difficult. “If you have any issues eating based upon our offerings or your dietary restrictions or anything, please come talk to us,” Thomas said. Goudy is able and willing to provide individualized meals to meet dietary needs, both by mail and in-person. “[If] it's affecting your health or your studies or your happiness, stuff like that, that's what we want to know.”
Though he plans to alter many aspects of student dining, Thomas wants to ensure students are able to give their feedback on these changes, including the implementation of a student dining council, a newly formed group specialized in providing student feedback to Bon Appétit. In order to submit individual food requests, Thomas suggested informing the student dining council, but added that he doesn’t mind negotiating in person.
Thomas is excited about his new role as the new general manager of Bon Appétit, and will be bringing many changes that he hopes will be attentive towards and able to adapt to the various needs and desires of the student body. Students can look forward to seeing Thomas around campus and working with him to maximize their dining experience.