Associate Vice President of Yale Hospitality Rafi Taherian has received two major awards in just over a month for his work within both the University and the broader New Haven community.
In March, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association named Taherian the winner of a 2016 Silver Plate Award — colloquially known as the Academy Award of foodservice — for overseeing the nation’s best college or university foodservice operation. Four weeks later, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and University President Peter Salovey presented him with the Seton Ivy Award in recognition of his work partnering with local vendors. Although both awards bear his name, Taherian said he credits his success to the collective work of the entire Yale Hospitality team.
“To receive the highest and most prestigious recognition in one’s industry is humbling and rewarding at the same time,” Taherian said. “It is amazing to have all of this hard work recognized by our peers in the foodservice industry.”
Taherian told YaleNews that the Silver Plate Award speaks to the work of the entire Yale Hospitality team and is a tribute not just to him but to all of his employees.
The IFMA award is Yale’s first in at least the past 30 years, according to Taherian, though he said the honor comes as no surprise. He cited Hospitality’s impressive record of customer satisfaction — the most recent Consortium on Financing Higher Education Survey, conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, revealed that 91 percent of Yale students are either “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with their dining experience. He also noted the success of dining’s “singular” transformation from an outsourced operation to one overseen by University management in 2008.
Director of Auxiliary and Catering Operations Adam Millman suggested that Hospitality’s commitment to expanding its repertoire of unique, healthy offerings is likely another reason for its recognition by IFMA.
“I think I’d say it’s probably our plant-based protein initiatives — which we’ve done over the years, delivering seductive flavors but with a health and wellness focus — [that distinguished us],” Millman said. “Yale really is a leader in that area.”
In late May, Taherian will attend the Gold & Silver Plate Celebration in Chicago where the IFMA will honor one of the nine category winners — Taherian’s being college or university hospitality — with the foodservice industry’s highest recognition: the Gold Plate award.
Seven of eight students interviewed expressed surprise at hearing that Yale had been named the nation’s top college or university foodservice operation. But Katherine Soderberg ’19 said the decision seemed warranted.
“It wasn’t a huge shocker to me,” she said. “I just think that they do a great job and provide a lot of quality and variety to students.”
Taherian’s second honor, the Ivy Award, is part of the Seton Elm-Ivy Awards, established at Yale in 1979 to pay tribute to individuals’ work to strengthen relations between the city and the University. The Elm Awards honor New Havenites outside the Yale community, while the Ivy Awards go to faculty, staff and students at the University.
Although the Elm-Ivy Awards lack the national prestige of the Silver Plate, Taherian said he would by no means dismiss it as secondary to the nod from the IFMA.
“We were humbled and honored to be recognized by Mayor Harp and President Salovey,” he said.
Taherian’s work in the community includes serving on the board of Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen and facilitating the donation of leftovers from Yale Catering events and residential dining. He has also established partnerships between Yale Hospitality with local vendors like Lamberti Sausage and Whole German Breads.
Yale Hospitality oversees all 14 of Yale’s residential dining facilities as well as an additional 17 retail locations on campus.
Correction, April 14: A previous version of this article misstated Rafi Taherian’s title; in fact, he is the Associate Vice President of Yale Hospitality. It also misstated the number of retail facilities that Yale Hospitality operates on campus.