URI’s Hope Commons dining center wins national grand prize for second straight year

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KINGSTON, R.I. – August 24, 2010 – Dining Services at the University of Rhode Island is again basking in the glow of a major national honor.

Its Hope Commons residential dining and retail food center was named a Loyal E. Horton Dining Award Grand Prize Winner for the second straight year.

URI Dining Services Director Steven Mello and other members of his team accepted the award in July at the 53rd national conference of the National Association of College & University Food Services in San Jose, Calif. The highly competitive Loyal Horton awards program honors the organization’s founder and recognizes exemplary menus, presentations, special event planning and new dining concepts.

In defeating entries from small, medium and large colleges and universities across the country, Hope Commons earned perfect scores from all of the judges in the residence hall dining—multiple concepts outlet category. There were 172 entries in seven categories.

“When we arrived at the conference, that’s when we learned we had a perfect score for our entry,” Mello said. “The judges’ scorecards were available along with the books for review by all attendees. We snooped around to see what our rivals’ scores were, and we were the only ones with perfect scores. We were pretty optimistic.”

Mello brought the following members of his team to the conference as a reward for their hard work in developing a national leader in campus dining: David Bilotto, graphic designer who put the contest book together; Tom Cronin, manager of Mainfare at Hope Commons; Pat Leporacci-Marino, manager of Butterfield Dining Hall; Jeffrey Marino, catering chef; and JoAnne Stephens, associate administrator of retail operations.

In addition to enjoying the celebration, Mello and his staff members also benefited from conference programs.

“We always want to bring back numerous ideas from the conference in such areas as sustainability and new menu ideas,” Mello said. “Once we are operating during the school year, we are unable to compare ourselves to other universities’ services. But sharing concepts and ideas with other schools at the conference helps us develop new ways to respond to our customers’ preferences for menu offerings and programming.”

Earlier this year, Hope Commons captured the Loyal E. Horton Gold Dining Award in the large school category, defeating the University of Massachusetts, Virginia Tech and the University of Georgia. URI also won the Gold Award in the same category last year. Winning in the large school category put the University in the field for the grand prize category that also included medium and small schools.

The three Hope Commons units are: Mainfare, the central dining facility; Rhody Market, a retail pastry, coffee, pizza and ice cream shop that includes a large common area for student gatherings and the Corner Store, a convenience store with a wide array of items.

“This year, we added sections in the contest book to showcase our new programs, such as Beatlemania night and India night with belly dancing and henna tattoos,” Mello said. “We did Beatlemania night in conjunction with the release of the new Beatles’ (stereo box set), and India Night complemented the fall Honors Colloquium, Demystifying India.”

“All of these events and programming are ways that we try to keep the dining experience fresh and new.”

To see the colorful, award-winning contest book, go to http://www.uri.edu/dining/ and click on the icon with the student in the Rams shirt holding her food.