Upper School history teacher Christine Carter has been loving the new lunches. Photo: Darren Rosing

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a lot of tough goodbyes within the Pace community: goodbye to drinking water during class, goodbye to participating in chemistry labs, goodbye to having unassigned seats and goodbye to watching your Spanish teacher’s lip movements to understand a language you can barely comprehend. But one such departure seemed quite easy, and arguably long overdue: goodbye to Sage Dining—and hello to Flik.

After 15 years of Sage’s reign in the cafeteria, Pace administration decided not to renew their contract for this school year. “Because of their poor management, we started to look very closely at other options and put [Sage] on notice that as a consequence of their poor performance, we were going to interview other people for the job,” said Head of School Fred Assaf. “In doing so, we found other vendors who offered us better product and better process and management.” 

This change in culinary services coincides with the many changes to lunchtime in general as a result of the pandemic. In order to reduce potential contamination, most cafeterias across the country had to switch from the traditional buffet-style approach towards grab-and-go cuisine. Thus, it was important to Pace administration that the new dining service was prepared to create a tasteful selection of boxed lunches.

“I think they’ve done an amazing job, since it was really important to us that they would provide student-friendly options in those grab-and-go boxes,” said Mr. Assaf. “They’ve also expanded the grab-and-go approach with the sandwich bar and trying to get different salad toppings and proteins. I’ve been really impressed with how well they have adapted, and that’s exactly the type of management we were looking for: people who could adapt.” 

Working as the Director of Dining Services at Pace is John Young’s first Flik project. Before joining the Flik team, he worked in several university dining programs, including at Oglethorpe University, University of Central Florida and Reinhardt University. Mr. Young is a classically-trained French chef, and while he is fully capable of working closely with liquid nitrogen and chocolate for the “fancy stuff,” Mr. Young is more focused on the basics—and doing them right. “If you’re going to do a roasted chicken, you’ve got to make sure it’s seasoned well, cooked well, it’s moist and tastes good,” said Mr. Young. “People sometimes try to do too much.”

Mr. Young can’t stress enough the extent to which the pandemic is limiting Flik’s services. “We would have a lot more fresh toppings at the salad bar, a lot of better options at the sandwich bar, and our menu selection would be much different in that we would be having a grilled section every day up at the hot line with burgers or dogs or chicken fingers daily,” said Mr. Young. “If this was a normal year, you’d have a lot more visually-appealing and fresher foods to choose from.”

The student response to the change in meal provider has been mixed, but students have witnessed speedy improvement in the food quality ever since the first week’s testing period. “Like, obviously people think Sage was better, but that’s probably just because we haven’t been able to experience Flik in the same way due to the pandemic,” said sophomore England Meadows.  

While the majority of complaints revolve around coronavirus-induced limitations and the fact that grab-and-go lunches are never ideal regardless of their curator, 74% of polled senior respondents agreed that Flik Dining employees were kinder than their Sage counterparts. “They always ask how I’m doing this year,” said senior Eli Mautner. “The woman who gives me vegetarian meals is really nice and always makes sure I have mine,” added senior Marc Rosenthal. 

Nevertheless, there are a few legendary Sage meals that students hope Flik can recreate. Among other suggested classics, students wish Flik would one day bring Rodeo burgers and breakfast for lunch back to the Pace kitchen. If there’s a suggestion any student or faculty member would like to respectfully make, the Flik team can be reached at the following email address: flik@paceacademy.org.

Top photo: (L-R) Seniors Marc Rosenthal, Gus Thomas and Hunter Williams enjoy Flik’s rendition of the classic fried fish taco. Their special ingredient is fresh mango salsa. Photo: Darren Rosing

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