URI’s Hope Commons is national model of excellence

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Facility’s Corner Store named ‘Best in Business’ by national group

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 14, 2008 – A national trade group representing college dining services has named the University of Rhode Island’s convenience store in Hope Commons “the best in the business” in the product mix and variety category.

The Corner Store at Hope Commons is the only one in the nation to receive such a designation in the product variety category from the National Association of College and University Food Services. The association also honors college convenience store operations in such areas as marketing and merchandising and food service application. The group is the trade association for food service professionals at more than 625 institutions of higher education in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and abroad.

In addition, the entire Hope Commons operation is receiving frequent visits from other universities, including the University of California at Los Angeles and Georgia Tech, which want to learn why it has received such rave revues..

“When I received the call telling us we won the ‘Best in the Business’ award, I ran from my office and shouted to everyone, ‘we won, we won, we won’,” said Kathleen Gianquitti, director of Dining Services at URI.

Gianquitti said the association was so impressed with the operation it is sending a film crew to the Corner Store this month for three hours to document its success. The video will then be made available to all association members who want to improve their convenience store operations.

Located on the ground floor of Hope Commons, the 1,500-square-foot Corner Store has just about everything college students need in their daily lives, including organic foods, gluten-free foods, ready to eat meals, health and beauty aids, and even freshly popped popcorn.

“From prepared entrees such as meatloaf, sausage and peppers, veggie lasagna or popcorn chicken, to make-your-own-cereal, nuts and dried fruit combinations and convenience items, we have what our busy students need in a warm and dynamic environment,” Gianquitti said. “Want a hot dog, a roller stick, cold beverage or a hot cup of coffee? We have them. Need some balloons for a friend? We have them.”

“Want to purchase from local merchants and farms, we have Rhody Fresh milk, eggs and cheese, and you can select our Monster Cookies from the Cookie Place,” Gianquitti said.

She and Sharon Valliere, food service administrator at URI and manager of the Corner Store, proudly showed off the large selection of Indian, Mexican and Kosher foods, and ready-to-eat meals.

As they moved through the store, there was a regular stream of students. “We always come in for the candy,” said Kassandra Eady, a freshman from Wilbraham, Mass., who was clutching a Del’s Lemonade.

Her friend Tamara Faddish, a freshman of Hillsborough, N.J., was holding milk and a Del’s. “When we’re studying, we always come over for snacks. We get our milk, ice cream and snacks here.”

The Corner Store opened more than 12 years ago in a 400-square-foot portion of the old Hope Dining Hall, which was razed for Hope Commons. During construction, the Corner Store moved into a trailer. Two years later, students now patronize an operation open seven days and 84 hours per week.

“Sales have increased from an average of $2,100 per day when we opened in September to an average of $3,046 in February. We attribute this 44 percent increase in daily sales to our ability to service our students, faculty and staff with a wide variety of products,” Gianquitti said.

But Sharon Valliere, food service administrator for Dining Services and the manager of the Corner Store, said the staff continues to look for ways to improve. “We are already looking into new products for next year,” Valliere said.

A model for other universities, institutions

Because the opening of Hope Commons last summer garnered so much publicity both locally and nationally, officials of other Universities have been visiting the dining center to get ideas for their operations.

In addition to heavy coverage by Rhode Island media, Hope Commons has also drawn coverage in the following trade publications: Food Management, On-Campus Hospitality, Design Cost Data, the New England Business Bulletin and the National Association of College and University Food Services.

That attention has led to visits from officials from UCLA, Georgia Tech, Northeastern University, Brown University, the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Rhode Island Hospital and FM Global, which has begun a $60 million expansion at its headquarters in Johnston.

Gianquitti said all of the visitors have remarked on the overwhelming amount of dining choices at Hope Commons. The facility has three distinct operations: Main Fare, which is the main dining operation; Rhody Market, an upscale retail coffee, beverage, ice cream and pizza shop complete with fireplace and plaza screen televisions; and the award-winning Corner Store.

“Georgia Tech was so impressed that it visited twice, once with a contingent of students,” Gianquitti said.

“They all remarked about how attractive it was and how it doesn’t remind them of the stereotypical dining experience,” Gianquitti said. “Hope Commons looks like something you would find in an upscale mall. They loved the fireplace and plasma TVs in Rhody Market. They said it was such a warm atmosphere. They all said they wished they were back in school.”

Pictured above

WE’VE GOT THE GOODS: Sharon Valliere, left, food service administrator for Dining Services and the manager of the Corner Store, and Kathleen Gianquitti, director of Dining Services at URI, display some of the numerous products at the store.

CANDY BONANZA: URI students Rachel Suggs, a kinesiology major from Irvine Calif., front, and Alana Hagarty, a communication studies major from Sudbury, Mass., pick out some of their favorite treats the Hope Commons Corner Store.

URI Department of Communications and Marketing Photos by Michael Salerno.