RoundupReads Johnson On-Site Food Services in a Post-Pandemic Business Landscape

Johnson On-Site Food Services in a Post-Pandemic Business Landscape

by Catherine Ragin Williams | 2022-09-13

Remember the common refrain at the start of the pandemic? When things are normal again …

And remember when you had to say it to yourself month after month — and then year after year — as the pandemic only picked up steam?

While many consider the pandemic over — or, at least, more a worry running in the back of one’s mind, what’s become obvious is there is no “normal” anymore — but a “new normal.” You are probably tired of hearing that phrase, too.

Businesses, especially those in the service industry, are having to pivot to meet this reality and stay solvent.

You may be asking: So, what does this have to do with me?

And that answer is simple: Food. The Starport team has had to adjust to meet the challenges of feeding the workforce who returned to on-site work.

“We’ve experienced dramatic shifts in the way the workplace operates over the past couple of years, and through it all the JSC team has continued to brilliantly execute the mission,” said Starport Operations Manager Debbie Denton-Misfeldt.  

The on-site contingent is leaner than pre-pandemic totals, forcing a reduction in the services people remember, like a traditional cafeteria setup. And while those kinds of amenities will not return to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in the foreseeable future, Starport continues to make adjustments to keep employees happy and sated.

“As on-site numbers increased this past spring, we were determined to provide good food and an environment where the JSC team can come together at lunch and to take breaks, since this is important to the overall employee satisfaction,” Denton-Misfeldt said. “We realized locally owned restaurants and food trucks were our best option for on-site food service — even though they face serious staffing challenges and rising wage and food costs.” 

A rotation of these restaurants and food trucks are providing an array of dining options for the Johnson team. Currently, there are varied flavors and cuisines available in Buildings 3 and 11. Recently, food trucks have also returned to Building 11.

For the most up-to-date food service offerings or to provide vendor suggestions and feedback, visit Starport’s website HERE.

For hunger pangs that must be answered outside of typical breakfast and lunch dining hours Monday through Friday, Royal Tea & Coffee’s kiosk in Building 3 offers snacks, grab-and-go salads, and sandwiches, and the Building 4S Liftoff Café also has a rotating assortment of sandwiches, hamburgers, and salads to choose from.  

But I miss the way things were. Why can’t it be like that again?

With swiftly rising inflation, post-pandemic food service operators now seek significant subsidies to operate corporate cafeterias like Johnson used to have. However, appropriated funds cannot be used for the purpose of food, and Starport doesn’t have the financial resources to provide such an ongoing subsidy.

And while Starport is working tirelessly to increase the choices available to Johnson team members, the demand must be there — or the vendors won’t.

“We monitor sales for the various restaurants, and if our workforce can support, we’ll bring in multiple options per day,” Denton-Misfeldt said. “However, each vendor needs at least 80 customers to break even, and more like 120 to commit long term to serving at JSC. Demand is key.” 

If you want the “old normal” and more to choose from, now is the perfect time to obey your cravings and support Starport’s available options with your foot traffic.

Snapshots of some current restaurants and food trucks available to those dining on-site. Credits: NASA/Debbie Denton-Misfeldt
Snapshots of some current restaurants and food trucks available to those dining on-site. Credits: NASA/Debbie Denton-Misfeldt

Food trucks make an appearance at the JSC 60th anniversary car parade on June 16, 2022. Credits: NASA/James Blair