Another new look for J Street

J Street’s menus and venues will be replaced again this fall, after a massive overhaul last year could not attract more sales to the dining hub that has been plagued by a perpetual image problem among students.

GW’s largest dining hall will bring back fast food with Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. For the last year, customers’ choices were largely restricted to only food prepared by Sodexo.

The changes come one year after J Street’s last slew of venue replacements, which gave Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A the boot in favor of options touted as healthier and cheaper. Those changes failed to increase sales.

J Street will ditch the University-managed Kosher deli to swap in a Vietnamese-style independent venue called Banh Mi. Metro Diner, added last fall, will expand to include a hot breakfast and lunch bar. Simply to Go, a shop offering prepared snacks, will include an Edy’s frozen yogurt machine to make up for the loss of Freshens, which sold fruity smoothies and frozen desserts.

Campus dining officials also said the signature sandwich and salad bar would see more variety.

“We’re trying to create some more excitement,” Director of Campus Support Services Nancy Haaga said, adding that the move is geared toward reeling more students into J Street and combating its consistently negative reputation.

The dining hall has struggled to grow its customer base as it faces more competition from eateries cropping up in Foggy Bottom.

Sales reports from Sodexo in fall 2011 and spring 2012 showed last year’s changes could not boost sales, though those reports came the same year that the University stopped requiring sophomores to purchase food from Sodexo vendors.

While student traffic to J Street did not increase with the most recent revamps, GW has steadily upped its business with Sodexo in the last three fiscal years. The company’s total contracts with GW as of July 2011 neared $7 million, about half a million dollars more than GW reported in its financial disclosure forms in 2008. Before then, GW’s reported costs to Sodexo hovered around $6 million.

Sherrard said the contracts included much more than the single contract with J Street, including catering services and other dining plans. The University could not provide information about its dining contract with Sodexo because the figures are considered competitive information.

Dining officials plan to publicize this year’s changes through a marketing campaign launched in May.

Haaga said she was optimistic that J Street’s new marketing director, who began work this month, can make the hall a “destination” by hosting more themed meals like last year’s crab boil.

The hire has spent the last few weeks giving the year-old vendors’ signs a makeover – updating menu boards and planning the fall rebranding plan.

Haaga said she hopes this new position will help revitalize J Street.

The University is also in the process of hiring a new director of campus dining to replace Richard Yokeley, who left this summer. Sherrard said GW could not release information about his departure, citing University policy regarding personnel confidentiality, but said he still works for Sodexo.

Haaga said they have already picked Yokeley’s replacement and are now waiting on confirmation before officially bringing the new director on board.

“We’re very excited,” Haaga added.

Though Sodexo has been contracted by GW since 2006, chair of the Student Dining Board Michael Morgan said they are still working out the kinks in its seventh year of operation.

“It’s just growing pains and figuring out where we are. It’s a lot of work for Sodexo, because GW has its own identity and they need to figure out what that is,” Morgan said. “We’ll settle into our bones sooner rather than later.”

“We’re taking the right steps. We’re learning from our mistakes,” he added.

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