Feb 27, 2020

Cooking up a more appealing display

'Students have off-the-wall schedules and may not get a chance to eat until three in the afternoon,' Food Service Director David Binkle said about his motivation to change the dining halls old tradition of closing between meals.
Juan Villa / The Collegian

Students who enjoy the menu at the Central Valley’s only Chick-Fil-A, the new look of The Vintage Room and University Courtyard Dining Hall and the availability of fresher, healthier food have one person to thank – the newly hired Food Service Director, David Binkle.

Binkle has brought a “common sense approach” to the department. His philosophy –– keeping the customer and employees happy –– will bring more business.

“If the customer doesn’t like it, they’re not going to eat it and not going to buy it,” he said. “I have to give the customer what they like.”

This requires the food service director to answer to thousands of people on and off campus.

“I have to listen to ideas from not only the students, my staff, faculty and other people on campus, but also visitors to the campus that may eat here on very few occasions,” he said.

After working as a food service director at a K-12 school district in Texas for seven years, Binkle moved from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to make a difference on the Fresno State campus.

When he’s not working, Binkle and his wife, Linda, enjoy sightseeing and traveling around California. They enjoy Fresno’s location in the middle of the state, which enables them to take day trips to cities in northern and southern California.

Binkle got his start in food service at his family-owned fine dining restaurant in Ontario, Canada.

“I learned to be a busboy at 13, and then I was a cook’s helper, and then I moved on to the grill,” he said.

Binkle holds his Bachelor of Science in health and recreation from Oklahoma Panhandle State University, Goodwell and got culinary education from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He is a certified chef, pastry chef, culinary administrator and food service management professional with 21 years of experience.

“I know the kitchen, I know what people like to eat and how to prepare it,” he said.

Binkle eats on campus daily to check up on the service and food quality of all of the venues. His dining hall favorite is the enchilada casserole.

When he took the position in July 2006, Binkle was faced with financial challenges, including thousands of dollars of debt that had accumulated over the past decade. But that didn’t stop him from making several large-scale changes to the food service department.

“My goal was to open a new venue every year,” Binkle said. “So far we’ve done it, and we hope to continue to do that so that students here will see the changes from their freshman year up until they graduate.”

Courtyard Express, a convenience store, opened in the Atrium in February, serving students from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Over the summer, Binkle added Chick-Fil-A to The Pit because it offered healthier fast food choices and is ranked second in the nation for fast food quality and service.

A Starbucks will open inside the new Henry Madden Library once construction is completed, offering coffee and healthy snacks, Binkle said.

Smaller-scale changes have also been made. New signs, menu boards, coffee and beverage equipment, light fixtures, electrical outlets and floor coverings were replaced and repaired in various food venues.

The University Courtyard Dining Hall has seen the most changes and according to Binkle, more are in the works.

“We’ll be adding new blinds, new beverage counters,” he said. “And we’re working on getting wireless Internet in the dining hall.”

Binkle has made an effort to revamp the menu at the University Courtyard Dining Hall. He has tried to add more nutritious items and incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables from local growers instead of using canned goods. The salad bar has been expanded, and fresh sushi is offered at lunch daily.

Binkle’s philosophy is to let the customer decide and then act quickly.

“I ask the students what they want, and then they start seeing the changes,” he said.

Binkle is most proud that his new projects are bringing in more business. Since he was hired, The University Courtyard Dining Hall has enjoyed more business than ever. More people who don’t live in the dorms are buying meal plans, plus many athletic teams eat there more frequently, Binkle said.

Sales at The Vintage Room have gone up after the restaurant was equipped with new chairs and revised its menu, Binkle said.

In 2006, sales for the department were up nearly $490,000. Commuter and guest meal plans were up 25 percent from the previous year.

Higher sales may be due to newly introduced daily discounts. With help from auxiliary services marketing coordinator, Brent Hansen, Binkle has offered daily discounts throughout the week at most venues on campus.

On $5 Fridays, any student can eat any buffet meal at the University Courtyard Dining Hall for $5 dollars. On Thirsty Thursdays, fountain drinks and brewed coffees are only $1 at all locations. For more information about discounts, visit fresnostatedining.com.

Binkle said although he has had plenty of support from the university, the most common reaction he gets from board members and faculty is a shocked, “wow.”

“It’s been a lot of big stuff in a small amount of time,” he said. “Is it too fast? I don’t think so. I think students want to see it better all the time.”

Binkle added that spending money to make improvements and show customers that he cares has worked so far.

“I’ll be the first to say that we have a long way to go,” he said. “But we are making progress.”

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