We asked the Silver Plate Class of 2014 a few questions to get an inside look at what makes them the operator all-stars they are today. Find out what they had to say about passion for foodservice, career accomplishments and what it means to be part of a legendary group of operators.
Mark S. LoParco, Director, UM Dining, University of Montana
LoParco received the 2014 Silver Plate Award in the Colleges and Universities category. He was nominated by Schwan's Food Service and Sysco.
What do you enjoy most about your career in foodservice?
I enjoy being a catalyst for change. I can honestly say that I've never worked anyplace where the status quo was "good enough," and I believe that I've brought this same spirit to my volunteer work in the National Association of College and University Food Service; certainly that will be said of my term as NACUFS President. I also have loved working with students for over 37 years; nothing is more gratifying than putting a smile on a student's face from 30 feet away, which is how my alternative persona, the "World Famous Omelet Guy," came to be.
Tell us about your biggest career accomplishment.
The obvious, of course, is winning the IFMA Silver Plate! To that, I would add my many years of NACUFS volunteer involvement, culminating in my term as President, where I currently have the privilege of leading NACUFS through a transformational governance process that will position the association to be more strategic and nimble with regard to meeting the changing needs of our members. There is, of course, much more, such as creating the UM Farm to College Program, becoming the first university in the Pacific Northwest to sign the Real Food Campus Commitment, my TEDx talk, "Cultivating Food Democracy," last fall, and, if there was more time….
How is your segment making a difference for the foodservice industry?
Collegiate foodservice is leading all institutional market segments in support of local food systems through farm-to-college programs, local food purchasing and extensive sustainable business practices. Some of the most exciting advancements in the foodservice industry are being innovated on college and university campuses, from creative, self-branded concepts and experiential dining, where kitchen and servery designs move final food production into the dining room, to state-of-the-art sustainable facilities and high-end, upscale catering. Collegiate foodservice has evolved from utilitarian, institutional-style operations to a market segment where anything goes, design competition is spirited and uniqueness reigns supreme.
What advice do you have for someone new to the foodservice industry?
The food industry is still a profession where someone with a great idea and a willingness to work hard can make it big; never underestimate the power of networking.
What does being an IFMA Silver Plate recipient mean to you?
This is an immensely humbling experience. I never expected that what I do on a day-to-day basis for my institution, students, and staff, and through my various volunteer responsibilities, would warrant this level of recognition. My philosophy throughout my career has always been to do the right thing for the people I serve, especially my students. Affirmation through receiving the Silver Plate Award, which I equate to winning an Oscar or the Heisman Trophy, has motivated me to seek more opportunities to contribute to the industry beyond college and university foodservice.