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Bon Appétit and Financial Office pause plans to make changes to The Lion’s Pause


Photo by Megan Lu


Students packed the Buntrock Ballrooms to join the Community Conversation on Campus Dining Experience, filling the seat and lining the back wall. Lion’s Pause Executives sat at the front middle of the room near the podium, combining tables to sit as a united front in their matching shirts, which read “Pause Executive” on the front and “R.I.P. Lair” on the back. A silent nod to the spaces in the Pause already taken over by Bon Appétit. Numerous students spoke about their experiences and asked questions about the plan proposed for Bon Appétit to partner with the Pause Kitchen. “This is what student collaboration looks like,” said Pause Operations Coordinator Aleah Keske ʼ24.


Lead-up to the Community Conversation 


The Community Conversation occurred in response to the news that Bon Appétit had unveiled a vision statement outlining the company overtaking operations of the Pause Kitchen. The Lion’s Pause has been student-run since its inception in 1968, with support from college staff in advising roles. Besides the College Bookstore, the Pause Kitchen is the only location that sells food and is not operated by Bon Appétit.


Pause Executives found out about the possibility of Bon Appétit collaborating with the Pause Kitchen on Sunday, Feb. 18. “We [Pause Financial Managers] were involved the Sunday before the Community Conversation for the very first time,” said Alex Walker ʼ24, one of the financial managers of the Pause, in an interview with The Olaf Messenger. “We got a notification on Saturday that Bon App would be joining our joint financial and Kitchen Manager meeting.” 


According to Kitchen Manager Hannah Mohnhardt ʼ24, representatives from Bon Appétit at the meeting said that “They were there to talk about the possibility of a collaboration between Bon App and the Pause in the Pause Kitchen.”


Bon Appétit’s intention to begin conversations about operating in the Pause Kitchen became public when a petition titled “Save the Lion’s Pause”  began spreading on social media on Feb. 19.  Atle Wammer ʼ24 made the petition when he heard about the situation. “I immediately made that petition and aimed it to current students, alumni, and parents. People who I believe have a vested interest in what’s going on at St. Olaf financially and philosophically,” said Wammer in an interview with The Olaf Messenger. “I chose to make a petition because I don’t have access to meetings, or pull, or any of those things. I don’t have that kind of power, and so I did what I could in making a petition.”


All students, faculty, and staff were informed of the Community Conversation and given access to the Bon Appétit-Pause Partnership Vision document via an email sent by President Sophia Pletcher ʼ24 and Vice President Chau Truong ʼ24 on behalf of the Student Government Association (SGA) on Feb. 20. The email, “Should Bon Appétit run the Pause Kitchen?” announced plans for a Community Conversation for the next day. It included a rough outline of the conversation format and a link to a Bon Appétit-Pause Partnership Vision document. 


Bon Appétit cites financial viability and food safety as reasons for the change. According to the vision document, Bon Appétit would make the Pause Kitchen the home of fried foods, burgers, and pizza on campus. Kitchen managers would still be student leaders but report to Bon Appétit Managers. The timeline in this document included a “Pause Operations Decision” period set from Feb. 1 to March 1, 2024, with the new structured Pause space to be completed by Sept. 1, 2024. SGA also explained the role of college administration in the process, writing, “This summer, St. Olaf’s Finance Office approached Bon Appétit to discuss what the Pause could look like if Bon Appétit operated the space.” 


A second email went out to the student body from Brandon Cash ʼ16 and Steve Lindley ʼ08 the following day, Feb. 21, announcing that the night’s event would be Part One of a Community Conversation. The email detailed the goals of the conversation, including “providing context on previous feedback shared by students” and “sharing the benefits and concerns our team has been discussing about Bon Appétit involvement in the Pause Kitchen and hearing what excites and concerns you.” Cash and Lindley also wrote in the email that a presentation at the Community Conversation would clarify what aspects of the Pause were subject to change. 


Addressing the timeline of the Community Conversations, Cash and Lindely announced Part Two of the Community Conversation on March 6 and wrote, “We know that a March 1 ‘decision date’ had been communicated as an aim for finalizing a plan which raised concerns. That deadline has been delayed so that these conversations can occur.”


Community Conversation 


“It was a scramble to prepare for the conversation,” said Pause Venue Coordinator and Concert Board Chair Abby Johnson ʼ24 in an interview with The Olaf Messenger. The short turnaround between Pause workers being made aware of the situation, the announcement of a Community Conversation, and the event meant that Pause Executives were given little time to prepare responses. 


Monhardt said that she spent six hours writing and editing her statement to remove emotion and express what the Pause meant to her. She found the absence of administration “really disappointing.” 

Several Pause Executives met with former Pause Kitchen Manager and Business Owner Kristina Halverson ʼ93 to create a strategy. Others developed their own, under the impression that representatives from the President’s Leadership Team and Bon Appétit would be present, learning shortly before the meeting that representatives from administration would not be there.


Cash and Lindley presented and facilitated the conversation. Bon Appétit representatives sat at a table in the audience, a fact missed by many attendees until pointed out during the conversation. College administration and members of the President’s Leadership Team were not in attendance. Cash and Lindley were to act as intermediaries.


In an interview with The Olaf Messenger, Halverson said, “These two [Steve and Brandon] are sacrificial lambs, and I’m pretty incensed that they didn’t start this conversation with the people who are not at least making the decision, than who have been very closely involved in the decision-making process.”


Attendees at the Community Conversation voiced their opinions about the possibility of Bon Appétit running the Pause Kitchen and the overall dining experience on campus. Topics of conversation ranged from the prices of items at the C-Store, experiences with cross-contamination and undercooked food in Stav, the need for student autonomy, and the importance of the Pause as a space for students separate from academics. 


Currently, students cannot use Flex Dollars, which are part of the student meal plan, at the Pause. Cash and Lindley described being able to use Flex Dollars as one of the main benefits of Bon Appétit operating out of the space; however, students voiced concern over the value of Flex Dollars. Walker recalled a particularly memorable moment when attendees erupted into laughter as he described his calculations that, based on the current meal plan rates and Cage prices, a drink priced $4.50 at the Cage costs $19.79 of a student’s tuition. 


The conversation strayed from the points presented by Cash and Lindely, with multiple attendees addressing the more drastic changes outlined by the vision statement released by Bon Appétit. Wammer felt that the information presentation failed to address students’ concerns. “The difference in the information in the vision statements and in that presentation was insane,” Wammer said.




Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the College Mike Berthelsen and Vice President for Student Life Hassel Morrison sent an email to all students on Feb. 27 informing them that while the college intends to continue the conversation about dining experiences on campus, “Any considerations regarding the possible integration of the Lion’s Pause Kitchen and Bon Appetit have been put on hold in order to focus on further refining current dining options.” 


Berthelsen further emphasized that the decision to suspend conversations about Bon Appétit assuming the operations of the Pause Kitchen sprang from listening to student feedback about the current state of dining. “It became clear from reading all the feedback and the conversation that some of those conversations were about the Pause, but a lot of them weren’t,” Berthelsen said in an interview with The Olaf Messenger. Berthelsen also spoke with members of SGA leadership before deciding to change the timeframe of the conversation about the Pause Kitchen.


Through building a Dining Advisory Committee, administering an annual survey, and bringing in a third-party evaluator, Berthelsen hopes to identify points of trouble in the current dining offerings on-campus and use this information to find solutions. Without the urgency of a decision within the semester, he remains hopeful that the college and Bon Appétit will best meet students’ needs and desires. While Berthelsen is unsure who will be on the, he believes it will be a standing committee rather than a temporary initiative like Stav Force One. 


Berthelsen hopes to continue conversations between the Financial Office and Pause Executives. “I’ve offered and will continue to offer to go have further conversations with the Pause as they have some ongoing questions. We’ll see how that shifts over time now,” Berthelsen said. As for ongoing student collaboration, Pause Executives involved in conversations about developing the C-Store’s experiences complicate what necessitates meaningful student representation. After Pause Executives were made aware of the opening of the C-Store, they were involved in parts of the discussion around its implementation. 


According to Kitchen Managers Hauseng Lor ʼ24 and Monhnhardt, they were placed on teams through the implementation process with limited foresight. “Our team, we met twice, and whenever we were to meet, I was given an email 24  hours in advance saying ‘Hey we’re meeting,’ so I had to make it work.” Mohnhardt said. “It was more of a ‘We had to meet,’ I didn’t know the subject of the meeting until I showed up and was given a debrief at the meeting.”


Keske said the team she was working with changed throughout the fall semester, with a different make up each meeting. “Different Bon Appétit management, different students, and different staff. There were some that stayed consistent,” she said in an interview with The Olaf Messenger. 


Lor served on the Menu Creation Team. “All I said, it went out the window. It was like, y’all are making me waste two hours knowing that my schedule doesn’t allow me to do this,” Lor said in an interview with The Olaf Messenger. “My voice was not heard.” 


While the plans outlined in the Bon Appétit-Pause Partnership Vision document will no longer proceed according to its set deadline, the situation has left many students on campus frustrated at the lack of consideration for student agency. “We should be giving agency to students, we should be letting students solve problems if there are problems, and at the very least they should be consulting those students in more concrete ways,” Wammer said. “The more information I found out, the angrier I get.” 


Berthelsen acknowledged that changing the Pause struck a chord with students as it has been a part of St. Olaf culture for over fifty years. “It became apparent that they had no idea what the Pause was like,” said Mohnhardt when reflecting on her conversations with Bon Appétit. 


“The Pause is another home to me,” Lor said.


At the same time, the situation gave some hope in the power of student voices. The Community Conversation was a highlight for Wammer. “I was really proud to be an Ole at that time. To see the community come together and argue so well for a common point,” Wammer said. 


Walker hopes this will continue support for the Pause, which has increased sales since the situation went public. “Just come to the Pause, spend some money,” Walker said. “The more that we can show that students are interested in the space through our finances rather than through emotions that will indicate to the school that students do care, they do come here.”


The Lion’s Pause space still demonstrates the lingering tensions between students and Bon Appétit. In this student-run space, between the Jungle and Pause Kitchen, is the C-Store. A Bon Appétit operation in the middle of the Pause is a physical reminder of the precarious nature of the Pause’s role in the campus dining ecosystem.

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