Fresh & Natural introduces fresh faces to SRJC

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In the wake of disturbing allegations against the food management team at SRJC last semester, Fresh & Natural brought in new management with hopes that a more experienced team will improve operations.

Last semester Fresh & Natural grappled with several issues from food safety to hiring practices. The Oak Leaf printed employee criticism of management setting off flea bombs in kiosks without following proper food safety procedures, failing to provide soap to employees and selling expired food.

Employees also complained about a rodent problem and management favoring family members when distributing hours. All the employees interviewed claimed they did not receive proper training.

Fresh & Natural employee Heidi Todd said that many of the allegations were overblown and that last semester there were many employees disgruntled over the change in management from the previous food service provider, High Feather, to Fresh & Natural.

However, management suspiciously fired an employee quoted by the Oak Leaf and the catering manager resigned shortly after the complaints were published.

The employee complaints brought management under close scrutiny by Fresh & Natural corporate and led to SRJC administration looking into the allegations.

By the end of the spring semester, Doug Roberts, vice president of business services, held weekly meetings with the manager, Jay Zumot, and CEO Norma Moreno to rectify the problems. Although the situation showed improvement toward the end of spring semester, during the summer, Fresh & Natural’s corporate office replaced the manager of the local partnership, Jay Zumot, and his team. Roberts said Zumot’s management style might not have been the right fit.

“It all happened rather quickly,” Roberts said.

Fresh & Natural offered SRJC’s location to Managers Jean Kang and Josh Kang and Kiosk Manager Miguel Cortez after Fresh & Natural’s contract did not get renewed at Santa Monica Community College. Fresh & Natural let Roberts know about the new management team Aug. 5. Roberts told Fresh & Natural that operations need to go more smoothly and is confident that, with the new management team, they will.

According to Roberts and Charlie Yen, director of contact services at Santa Monica Community College, the new management team has several years of experience with Fresh & Natural and in working at community colleges.

“I would say if you had a partner that had been with you for 16 years and had done a good job…why not use a successful food provider and bring them to another community college?” Roberts said. “That’s a partner you want to keep.”

According to Yen, the Kangs were at Santa Monica Community College for four years, and Cortez was there 12 years. Yen described them as a hard working, good team. He said the Santa Monica decision to replace Fresh & Natural was a political decision by the committee and had nothing to do with the management team’s performance.

“This semester it’s great. Everything is really clean and we’ve had really thorough training,” Todd, a long-term employee, said.

The Corporate Chef Anthony Thomas is currently on campus with the new management team. He has been staying in Santa Rosa and will be present on campus until the management team is functioning effectively.

He says that this semester, all employees will receive documented training, and he is taking a bigger approach to being “hands-on” with employees. He also said someone from corporate will be on campus every week indefinitely. Thomas did not disclose specifics as to why Fresh & Natural replaced Zumolt, saying he did not want to dwell on the past.

“It wasn’t a fit with our previous manager and that is why he is not here,” Thomas said.

The Kangs said they think they are a good fit here. They are both impressed with the campus and the community and are excited to be here. Josh Kang noticed that SRJC students are more political and he is “paying attention to the fact that people pay attention here.” He said Santa Monica Community College talked the talk about being green whereas Santa Rosa Junior College walks the walk, such as with the on-site composting effort.

Although the new management team is enthusiastic about being at SRJC, operations are not running perfectly. Some of the kiosks have been running out of products because the previous managers left inaccurate information for ordering.

“There are little logistical teething issues we’re trying to work through,” Josh Kang said. “It is hard to find a point of reference when you are new.”

Although there are difficulties, Todd is satisfied so far. “They are very nice and very professional, which I don’t feel was always the case before,” Todd said. Previous managers were cutting back to minimal employees before and communication was not good. “They’re making sure we have at least two employees at every space [now]. Things were starting to get cheaper and cheaper last year. Quality control is really a priority with these guys.”

Chef Thomas said to expect more changes from Fresh & Natural in addition to the change in management. Fresh & Natural plans to implement better signage to shorten customers’ time in line, has revamped its recipes and is working on creating a fun atmosphere with a “Man vs. Food” inspired challenge. New managers are also talking to Shone Farm about offering a specialty deli using Shone Farm products.

The most noticeable change on campus so far is the appearance of a new brand of coffee, Tony’s Coffee. Fresh & Natural started serving an alternate brand of coffee in addition to Peet’s Coffee in response to a student petition in which 600 hundred signatures were collected in favor of Tony’s. Tony’s is a fair trade, certified organic coffee from Washington.

The new management team encourages feedback from customers on menu suggestions and what they could improve. Feedback can be sent to Manager Josh Kang at [email protected] or put into a suggestion box at any of the food service stations.

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