Meet Our Founder & President, Mary Thornton
In 2016, amid changing food and consumer trends, Mary Thornton decided to bring a new idea to the table. Recognizing the need for healthy, wholesome, sustainable food in venues across the country, and guests’ increasing desire to know where their food comes from, Mary proposed the creation of a new culinary group. After working with a team of industry experts to research and test various programs and ideas, a new, independent division of Aramark was launched – the Harvest Table Culinary Group. We caught up with Mary to discuss how the idea for Harvest Table came to life.
What prompted the idea for Harvest Table?
As we noticed our guests and clients looking for more personalized experiences, we considered ways to make their dining experiences about more than just food. How could we take our food-first philosophy to the next level? While developing Harvest Table, we put food front and center, and surround it with a service experience that’s more aligned with a hospitality company than a food service company. Colleges and universities that are interested in Harvest Table pride themselves on making deep connections with their students, and we want to make those same connections through the culinary experience we provide.
Harvest Table is about more than food, it’s about the experience and achieving personal fulfillment. How do you see peoples’ attitudes towards food and lifestyle changing in the world right now?
It’s an interesting time to be part of a larger movement of food really being more personal again. It’s not just at colleges or universities. The world around us is really going back to an earlier time, in some ways, where your food source was much closer to where you’re consuming it. The quality that brings, and the goodness for the human body, but also for the earth, is going to continue to grow. There’s a huge food culture in the United States that is adapting to a more personalized model. It’s not necessarily just an east coast or a west coast thing, it’s a society that really wants to know where their food comes from, who’s making it, the qualities that it has, and that the people growing, harvesting and serving it are getting taken care of in an appropriate way. I get excited by that.
What sets Harvest Table apart from other dining service providers?
We don’t think of ourselves as a service provider. We are a culinary group, so we are first and foremost focusing on the culinary experience – from where the products are coming from and who is growing them to recipe development and how our chefs bring them to life in each community. Focusing first on the culinary, which weaves through everything we do, allows us to be very personalized for each of the partners we work with. For example, what you see in our recipe collection at a northeast university will be different than what is featured at a southeast university. We also engage our guests where they are on a regular basis. From chef-lead demonstrations of cooking skills that students will need after graduation to partnering with student groups on campus, and helping younger students learn to make healthier choices. We pride ourselves on making connections within each of our unique communities.
What’s your favorite Harvest Table dish?
I try to eat healthy, so my favorite meal is pretty simple: the Brasstown Beef flank steak, perfectly pan-seared and served up with a fresh side of oven-roasted vegetables. It doesn’t get better than that! MARY THORNTON
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by contributing to making life easier for our next generations of leaders. Without your physical needs taken care of, you’re not going to be successful in education, learning and growing. So, I see us as a key part of students’ overall development as an individual that will leave their time on campus ready to do something really amazing. Because we have been so close to them during that journey, we have contributed to that. Watching the students grow and learn from freshman year to senior year is an inspiration–they grow, they mature, they learn in all aspects of their lives, and I feel so inspired by our opportunity to contribute to that.