No matter what day of the week it is, the students of The Ohio State University (OSU) have a variety of food to choose from. “On any given day, we have over 100 different sandwiches alone we’re offering to students,” Director of Student Life Dining Services Zia Ahmed says.

Based in Columbus, Ohio, OSU has more than 30 dining operations at its home and regional campus locations. Ahmed notes that the dining services program started nearly 100 years ago and now employs approximately 3,000 employees. 

Ahmed himself is a longtime veteran of the campus dining services. Previously, he taught at the college of business at the University of Akron before joining OSU nearly five years ago.

With more than 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry focusing primarily on development, Perry Brush was named president of Mexican Restaurants Inc.™ last year to help turn the company around and expand the brand. 

“I built my first restaurant in 1984 and never looked back,” he says. “I have worked for a lot of different restaurant companies and I’ve seen well-run companies and challenged companies. That’s the experience that gives me the ability to guide this company and drive this organization into our future, which is heavily dependent on growth and development.”  

Brush was first introduced to Mexican Restaurants after he became president and chief development officer for Williston Holding Co. (WHC), an infrastructure-development company formed in 2012 to develop, own, operate and invest in projects in the Bakken Region of North Dakota. A member of the WHC board, who was also an investor in Mexican Restaurants, brought the company to WHC’s attention over concerns it was not being run properly, staying stagnant and not living up to its potential. 

Church’s Chicken implemented a multi-tiered strategy to revitalize the brand and become centered on the total guest experience. To do so, the company a few years ago began perfecting its operations, increasing its exposure to guests and renovating its facilities. “We are putting all the polish back on the brand,” President Jim Hyatt notes. 

George W. Church Sr. founded Church’s Fried Chicken-To-Go in 1952 in San Antonio, Texas and opened more than 100 fast-casual restaurants in the decade that followed. Today, Church’s has 1,700 restaurants around the world and about 80 percent of them are franchised.

The company attributes it success to serving what it says is the best chicken in the world. “At the center of the menu is exceptionally good fried chicken,” Chief Marketing Office Mark Snyder says. “That’s the thing we do best. Customers tell us they are willing to wait for our chicken to be prepared a little longer than at any other QSR because it’s fast-food with a slow-cooked taste.”

The concept for Bubbakoo’s Burritos was created at the University of Delaware in early 1990s. Paul Altero developed the restaurant’s business plan while he was a student at the university, but it was several years before the idea would come to fruition.

“I always had a passion for burritos and tacos,” says Altero, co-founder and CEO of Bubbakoo’s Burritos, which today has eight locations in New Jersey, six along the Jersey shore.

The road from the business plan that Altero wrote as a business school assignment to the opening of the restaurant’s first location in Point Pleasant, N.J., in 2008, had some detours and a critical connection with the man who would become his partner.

Altero spent 10 years working as a regional director for Johnny Rocket’s, the restaurant franchise whose themed decor is based on 1950s diners. During his time there, he met Bill Hart, a district manager for the franchise. “We really connected,” Altero recalls. “We worked hand-in-hand.”

University students sometimes have difficulty planning ahead. Their meal plan is to eat. But at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, nearly 11,000 out of approximately 13,500 students – 80 percent of them – participate in the variety of meal plans available there. “The typical school participation for meal plans is 50 percent,” Director of Dining Hall Operations Jon Plodzik maintains.

Only 5,800 students live in dormitories on campus. The rest live in apartments with kitchens, but they still eat on-campus. Out of a total of approximately 2,000 faculty and staff, 482 are enrolled in a meal plan. “They might buy 150 entries in the dining hall for a price,” Plodzik explains. “We do a payroll deduction and take the cost of the plan over eight paychecks. So it’s a great value for them. We have our regulars that come every night.”

After 50 years, Pic-n-Pac Convenience Stores remains successful by making smart decisions, Director of Operations Phil Wuest says. “The company’s strength has to be our main focus,” he says.

Pic-n-Pac’s wise decisions have included growing itself at a conservative rate, as opposed to other chains that expand store count quickly. “They don’t recapitalize because they’re sucking the company dry,” he says. “My family has been good about not doing that.” 

Based in McQueeney, Texas, Pic-n-Pac operates convenience stores in the Lone Star State that sell food, drinks, novelty products and gasoline. The company started C-Store operations in 1964 with the opening of its first convenience store that operated in an ice house format without fuel.

There are multiple Mongolian grill chains, but HuHot Mongolian Grills LLC sets itself apart with its efficiency. “There are very few, full-service casual concepts where within five minutes you’re sitting down eating your entrée, if you desire,” COO Jeff Martin says.

Based in Missoula, Mont., HuHot has a chain of 57 locations that allow customers to customize their own meals of meat, seafood, noodles and vegetables that are cooked in front of them by the restaurant’s “grill warriors.” 

“Being able to watch their meal stir-fried as they wait to have it handed off to them really provides a level of fun and theater that our guests really enjoy,” Martin says. “People are incredibly interested in what goes into their food. There’s also more confidence in what they’re eating when the food never leaves their sight.” 

Creative Dining Services believes dining brings people together and so it focuses on building a sense of community through great food and an atmosphere where the free flow of ideas is always welcome. The company prides itself on engaging customers with promotions and special events while wowing them with an assortment of dishes that keeps customers coming back.

“The founding principles of the organization stem from wanting to provide fine hospitality dining services to our client base and keeping our focus on our clients,” CEO Jim Eickhoff says. “Our biggest competition isn’t necessarily other providers, it’s the choices today. Customers can go off campus to get Chipotle or go to Applebee’s because it is running a promotion. We want customers to come here because they can find something better than anything else out there.”

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