BEING JOHN FRANCONE
The GO Boards are a student run online community with discussions about issues as varied as the Honor Code, global warming, and the iPod Nano found on the green. The most viewed, longest running thread on the GO Boards' Haverlife Forum is John Francone's“food & things 07.” Perhaps it's because of the colorful fonts, smiley faces galore, and the occasional quip, but more likely it's because Francone understands that food is love. For him, being the Director of Dining Services isn't just about serving up a few hot dishes a day. Francone puts emphasis on knowing what students want and then does his best to deliver the goods.
Francone hates to admit it, but a lot of times he looks around and says to himself,“How the hell does all this magic happen?” He has a wonderful, dedicated staff that has sincere concern for students. He credits them for the success of the DC. He counts himself lucky to work alongside such a caring group of people. Spend five minutes with John Francone and you understand the tremendous passion he has for his work. He wants the students, whom he regards as“the most intriguing people” he's ever met, to know that he recognizes and appreciates their complexities and encourages them to bring their individual needs, preferences, and expectations to his attention.“Come to me with twenty different requests. If I can at least come back with eight of them and do the best I can with those, we're that much more ahead of the game.” He smiles when he talks about the students' preferences and clearly welcomes the challenge of catering to such a dynamic clientele. Sometimes the request is simpleâ€”more chocolate rice krispie treats, please. Occasionally, though, the request is more time intensive, like the call for a sushi special. But for Francone, coordinating the creation of more than 3500 pieces of sushi is worth it because it makes the students so happy. Even when one student on GO jokingly asked for an order of“chicken-fried bacon,” Francone replied with a hearty,“Maybe .”
Francone estimates that there are roughly 900 students on the meal plan, each with about 10 different expectations. To be sure, trying to satisfy as many people as he can keeps him incredibly busy. Yet he finds the time to be on GO everyday, keeping the campus community abreast of what's new on the menu, responding to student requests, and generally trying to demystify the DC.“The biggest problem is there are too many misconceptions. Ideally, I try to enlighten people by talking about my budgets, recipes, or whatever. I want to try to help as much as I possibly can.” The boards are his pipeline to the students. Francone makes posting a priority.“It's too important not to,” he says earnestly.
So, what's on the horizon for Dining Services? Francone is one of the founding members of Haverford College's Committee for Environmental Responsibility. As such he has been working with Stephanie Rudolph '06, one of the Haverford House Fellows, to try to integrate more local and organic produce into the mix. Rudolph introduced Francone to the White Dog CafÃ© Foundation, an organization that is beginning a Farm-to-School program. He's already sat down to meet with the representatives from White Dog, La Salle University, Bryn Mawr College, and several small schools in New Jersey to discuss how to utilize resources to meet the unique demands of campus dining centers. It's not easy given the seasonal availabilities of local produce, the costs associated with free range meats and poultry, as well as the limited abilities of a lot of the local farms. They are continuing to meet to work on resolutions, but that doesn't mean Francone is sitting on his hands. Every morning until they run out the DC is offering free range eggs.“There's going to be a meeting of the minds, expense wise, where we may be able to open up a few more organic options in the Dining Center.” The more campuses that get on board the local and organic train, the easier it will be for farmers to regulate prices. With environmentally motivated ascending president , Stephen Emerson '74, waiting in the wings, Francone is hopeful that the success Dining Services has had in eliminating Styrofoam from the DC altogether and providing more recycled and environmentally friendly paper products is a sign of the progress to come in providing“greener” food options.
Francone is constantly searching for ways to make things better and to make students happier. Most of all his heart is huge. With the help of his staff, he shows how three meals can mean so much more than just food.
â€” Janine Beaman