A revolution is taking place in how the university provides catering services to its students, led by a team of managers determined to provide what students want.
Photo: Chris Teale
UEA Catering Services rebranded to Campus Kitchen at the beginning of the academic year and is led by assistant managers Matt Emery, Danny Huthwaite and Pete McNulty, who are responsible for the running of a number of campus eateries.
The rebrand brought about a complete change in image and personality, with the whole persona of Campus Kitchen given a dramatic overhaul.
“[The old name] was boring,” said Emery. “It was dry, it was old, it wasn’t forward-thinking. The new name represents the attitude.
“We didn’t just want to change the name, the whole Campus Kitchen coolness represents who we are now as a company. We’re not boring, and that’s the whole point. Campus Kitchen is a way of life, and it’s for students.”
They noticed a difference immediately, as campus outlets like Zest, Blend and Café Direct have all been noticeably busier since the rebrand, with some even suggesting an outside company had come in and taken over the catering services on campus.
However, this was not the case, and instead, as Emery puts it in his own inimitable style, the company was “taken over by coolness.”
In rebranding, the company also made great efforts to refurbish and enhance their various outlets. This is most notable Zest, which has undergone a dramatic transformation in a relatively short space of time.
Emery continues: “If I was to get one physical embodiment of how the brand has changed, I’d choose Zest. It used to be sterile and bland with white walls and a dry lunch, almost like being in a hospital.
“Then, we painted the walls red, we increased the counters to, we put street food in there, we put together five different offers of what students, our customers, actually want.
“We’ve funked it up. It’s bold, like us. It’s forward-thinking, like us. Every year, we’re doing something more in there.”
The next project for Zest is to install a smoothie bar, offering various options to help students depending on their needs, from easing morning hangovers to helping to aid study. It is a vast change from how Zest used to be, a change which Huthwaite appreciates having been employed by the company for over 20 years.
“Before when people would come into Zest, it would be like a school canteen,” he added. “A lot of parents when they come and bring their kids on their first day, they want to be going away knowing that their kids are going to be well looked after there.”
There are similar plans afoot for Blend and Café Direct, two of the other outlets owned by Campus Kitchen, that have also seen transformations take place in their walls in what has been a busy year for the company.
Café Direct in particular has already been hailed as a success story for the company, having almost doubled the level of its business in the space of a year, and seen its number of tills and coffee machines doubled to cope with the extra demand. However, they are keen to retain its core values of being the small corner deli on campus, where every customer is treated like a regular by the staff working there.
The Campus Kitchen staff receive a thorough grounding in the ethos and mission of Campus Kitchen as part of a wide-ranging induction, although McNulty is keen to stress that most of the learning is done on the job.
“New staff members will sit down with their supervisors on their first day, and the supervisor will go through the whole Campus Kitchen ethos with them,” McNulty said.
“It’s not all paragraph after paragraph of writing, it’s just a guide and then they’ll be trained in their job on the spot. They have one thing to sign at the end saying they understand everything, and that’s it.”
Meanwhile, the Campus Kitchen management are keen that while their team are well treated and receive the best possible training, they are also conscious of the environmental impact and sustainability of the food which they produce.
This is apparent in their efforts to stock as much produce as possible from local providers, with products like their vegetables, meat, milk and bread all coming from local producers. In addition, Campus Kitchen only use Red Tractor meat from a local butcher, while all their dairy products are free range.
With the introduction of Keep Cups, they have halved their disposals of cups and have also seen their recycling rate double by 60%, thanks to what Emery describes as “auditing the bin-bags”.
As a whole, Campus Kitchen feel they are making great strides towards a sustainable catering service that students enjoy, but are keen to stress they always want to hear students’ views.
They have recently introduced a new email address, campuskitchenfeedback@ uea.ac.uk, for anyone to send a message to with feedback and suggestions, and hopes are high that the company can continue their good work in providing catering services for students.