Talks with Vox: The Hilltoss
They have been tossing salad since November 14, 2014, and will continue to toss them once they re-open for business January 19. Serving up creatively-named green creations like the Jay Gatsby in a simple, yet stylish nook of the Healey Family Student Center, the Hilltoss is making its mark on campus as the go-to destination for healthy food.
Yesterday, Vox sat down with master salad tossers, Director Dana Mitchell (MSB ’15) and General Manager Monish Sabnani (MSB ’15) to learn more about the Corp’s newest service.
Vox: The Corp has done the coffee, catering, and convenience store—so now why a salad place?
Mitchell: So actually two years ago when the Corp found out there was an available space on campus, they created a survey and sent it to everyone from faculty to students on campus. They had a variety of options: smoothie and salad, deli, ice cream, another coffee, another grocery, and the combination of salad and smoothie won. So the idea for the Hilltoss was sourced not only from the Corp, but from the Georgetown community at large.
Vox: What do you guys think the biggest challenge has been since you opened in November?
Sabnani: I can name a few, but I would say for us it has been consistency; we just set out to have the best food quality. There has kind of been a stigma on campus that the Corp has sub-par coffee and what not, so we wanted to avoid that and from day one focus on food quality. To do that, we did multiple training sessions, and for every set of employees we ever hired, we had hours on hours of training. We also did the Farmer’s Market for the spring of last year. Food quality and consistency was the biggest problem we anticipated, and we have also taken it head-on and addressed it really well.
Vox: Do you guys have anything in mind as far as future expansion, both short-term and long-term?
Sabnani: In the short-term, we have been focused on this store itself. We have only been open for a month and a half now, and over that time period until now we have been focusing on the small kinks, mainly in the back kitchen with things that are not as noticeable to the public but are important to our operation. The long-term? I think Dana will be better at answering this question…
Mitchell: I think what Mo is trying to say is that we are consistently trying to hone in on our operations to make them faster. This past semester it has been that the line is too long. We are trying to make kitchen operations faster so that people don’t spend as much time in line. As far as long-term goals, I think the first one is product expansion. Right now we offer salads and coffee and tea, and some sides like chips and granola bars. We are looking to introduce smoothies and acai bowls this semester, hopefully by early February. Another goal is to satisfy customer needs that aren’t met on campus. There originally was Salad Creations, but we believe our product quality is a bit higher than that. We are also trying to fill another need on campus, like a smoothie, or breakfast option that an acai bowl might serve. And I think beyond just products, hopefully next semester or year, improving our hours and being open on weekends or longer hours during the day.
Sabnani: Another thing is seating. We have a big open spot in the store that we want to use, possibly adding couches and coffee tables. We want to fill up the space more. In the past month in the half, it has been working on the little things to make the store more perfect than it is right now.
Vox: Creative salad names are a defining part of the Hilltoss; can you guys explain your favorite salad name and why?
Sabnani: Mine is pretty straight forward. My favorite salad, and name, is the Far East Movement, and that’s because I am actually from Hong Kong, and so the salad is one of my favorite just because it is the sort of stuff I grew up on. It wasn’t even me who came up with it, but I think it was the best name for it. If you look at our map of the salads *points to the map on the wall*, for the Far East Movement, the string points to Hong Kong, so obviously that is close to my heart.
Mitchell: I think mine is the Walden. I grew up in Ohio in a very rural small town… I live basically in the forest. I think of Walden pond, so it is like a hat tipping to Thoreau. When you eat that salad, it transplants to you a place that is very cozy, homey…just very natural.
Sabnani: All of the names are supposed to put a picture in your head and make you think of a specific place in the world. You’ll see that also with more creations to come.
Photo: Marisa Hawley/The Georgetown Voice