A group of students was recently awarded the contract to run the Juice Bar as part of the contest launched by Vice President for Administration Tim Spears last fall. If the preparation process goes smoothly, the Juice Bar will reopen at the start of the spring semester under the students’ management.
A committee consisting of Spears, Special Projects Coordinator Sarah Franco, Business Manager Tom Corbin and Pier LaFarge ’11.5 selected two proposals, submitted by project leaders Kate Strangfeld ’12 and David Dolifka ’13, as the strongest out of 10 total applications received. Strangfeld’s team, which also includes Ben Blackshear ’12, Sarah King ’12 and Jessi Stevens ’12, will collaborate with Dolifka in managing the Juice Bar, designing and pricing its menu and purchasing and preparing food.
The contest was originally announced in a campus-wide e-mail on Oct. 14. Applications were due on Nov. 30, and after narrowing the proposals down to three, the committee determined that a combination of Strangfeld’s and Dolifka’s proposals represented the strongest option.
“We were impressed with both of these proposals, and when we sat down and actually evaluated the two, we thought that these would be amazing together,” Spears said.
Strangfeld recently graduated from culinary school in Manhattan, has extensive restaurant experience, has run several Dolci dinners and currently works as a private chef twice a week. Dolifka manages and operates a hay and alfalfa farm in Colorado, where his responsibilities include managing employees, advertising, sales and paperwork.
“I think everyone’s bringing a really important perspective to this venture,” Spears said.
In designing their menu, the group focused on the need to counterbalance the Grille’s offerings with a healthier alternative.
“We really wanted to complement the Grille,” Strangfeld said. “While the Grille has great late night junk food, it lacks healthy options. Because Middlebury has so many active people and athletes on campus, I think the campus would really benefit from a place that offers healthy, filling meals.”
The proposed menu involves combining a variety of prepared ingredients into one dish, either primarily sweet or primarily savory. On the savory side, customers will choose one base, such as rice, mixed greens or noodles; four vegetables; a protein like chicken or tofu; a topping such as nuts or cheese; and finally a sauce, such as Asian peanut sauce, guacamole, pesto or hummus. On the sweet side, bases such as Greek yogurt or waffles can be combined with fresh fruit, chocolate, granola or maple syrup.
The menu takes into account concerns about healthy and locally produced ingredients along with logistical issues such as prep time and cost.
“In planning our menu, we’re looking at how we can offer the most variety with the fewest ingredients and the simplest prep work,” said Stevens.
Though concerns over cost and seasonality will limit the amount of local offerings the menu will be able to include, particularly during the winter, group members are sensitive to the importance of incorporating sustainability into their plan. Blackshear, who has worked on several farms, is knowledgeable and passionate about the local food scene; Strangfeld and King will both live in Weybridge House in the spring.
“We’re very excited about exploring the options, taking advantage of local offerings and looking at eco-conscious consuming and healthy eating,” said Blackshear.
The students all emphasized their willingness to reevaluate the Juice Bar’s offerings as time goes on. They mentioned hosting a cereal-themed night or serving fondues, which featured in Dolifka’s original proposal.
“We’ll be receptive to student feedback, open to student input and definitely willing to adjust the menu to what works and what’s popular,” said Blackshear.
Dolifka stressed how, as students, the Juice Bar’s new managers could be more sensitive to student preferences in developing menu and program ideas.
“As students, we’ll be more receptive and in tune to what people want,” he said. “We’ll be able to hear the voices of the student body and Middlebury community and give people what they want.”
Beyond the culinary offerings, the Juice Bar’s future managers all expressed a deep interest in the space itself as a space for students to gather, take a study break and host and attend events.
“I want it to be a place that draws people in,” said Dolifka. “That means that it needs to have a cool atmosphere, a communal and group feel. We really want it to have a sense of community.”
The group is currently discussing ways in which the Juice Bar could become a social space for special events, such as Trivia Night, that might become institutions in campus social life.
“There’s a lot of energy on this campus,” said Stevens. “Whether it’s in music, social justice or a social event, students are always involved in interesting projects, and I think it would be great if a student-run Juice Bar could serve as a central venue to showcase these initiatives.”
According to Spears, the group has clearance to open as soon as they are logistically prepared; the administration will pay the group members and any additional students they may hire an hourly wage and will front them any start-up funds they need. The students will be able to take advantage of existing College food purchasing networks: through the Dining Services networks, for bulk foods, or through the 51 Main networks, for more specialty or artisanal foods.
In regards to long-term profitability, in the event the student-run Juice Bar loses money, Spears said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. It will depend on how much money they’re losing and why they’re losing the money.”
“We hope to establish the Juice Bar not only for the next semester, but to establish it in such a way that it will be sustainable and profitable for years to come,” said Dolifka.
“It’s definitely going to be a learning experience,” said Strangfeld. “We’re not professionals. But as students we’ll be able to talk to our peers and be more aware of what students want. And because there’s so many variations, it’s a menu that would work for anyone.”