Central Penn cafeteria feels food supply-chain kinks

Chef and crew are meeting challenges, one menu at a time

By Jamie Harmon

Knightly News Reporter


If you’ve been to a grocery store lately you’ve likely noticed the sparsely stocked and bare shelves throughout stores.

You may also have noticed products left on shelves are more expensive.

Labor shortages, spikes in COVID omicron-variant infections and severe weather in some parts of the country have caused major supply-chain issues nationwide, experts say.

According to the United States Department of Labor: “While items are harder to find, many also cost more with rising inflation. The consumer price index jumped 7% last year, the fastest pace since 1982. That’s up from 6.8% annually in November, which was also a nearly four-decade high.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said recently: “There are currently no nationwide shortages of food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock. Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the U.S. and there are currently no wide-spread disruptions reported in the supply chain.”

Even so, loose or broken supply-chain links in a country as large and populous as the United States have exacted a toll on people from inner cities and suburbs to restaurants and college cafeterias.

Consider: Prior to the winter of 2020, according to government and nonprofit agencies, overall food insecurity had reached a low point since measurements of it began, in the 1990s. The pandemic turned those statistics upside down.

The impact on Central Penn

How have the wide-flung and varied food shortages affected The Knight and Day Café?

“Food shortages have made it terrible trying to plan a menu because, after our deliveries, I am running to the store three to four times a week, and also running to other distributors multiple times a week to try to just get the basic stuff like chicken fingers,” Dave Letizia, head chef of the café, said.

Previously, Letizia received normal deliveries at Central Penn twice a week, and received produce shipments daily. Recently, deliveries have been cut to once a week, if a supplier has a driver to operate the delivery truck.

The staff at The Knight and Day Cafe manage to keep food available for students. Photo by Jamie Harmon

“I’ll receive a call saying, ‘Your order is on the truck, but we have nobody to drive the truck,’” Letizia said. “It’s frustrating. I would love to have a weekly menu but it’s almost impossible. We are pretty much flying day to day. I would love to advertise a special, but it’s impossible.”

Sitting on the chef’s desk is a stack of over 20 receipts paper-clipped together that highlight multiple trips to different retail providers such as Sysco and Weis Markets to get the basic needs to feed students, and to accommodate staff and faculty. The receipts total 23 — outside the normal weekly order.

“It’s the random stuff sometimes,” Letizia said in late February. “Chocolate chip cookies, or Italian dressing, that causes me to run out to complete meal preparation. Between shortages and missing items, I’ve had to run somewhere each day this week.”

Consumer Brands Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said: “U.S. groceries typically have 5% to 10% of their items out of stock at any given time; right now, that unavailability rate is hovering around 15%.”

With options like an Italian pasta feast, wing bar, chicken fried steak and crusted salmon, it’s clear Letizia and his team strive to be creative to offer ample food choices despite some food shortages.

 “I hope for the ability to offer more options to students with creative themed meals coming up in the future,” Letizia said.

Harmon is vice president of The Knightly News.

Have a comment or story idea? Contact KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.Edu.

Edited by media-club co-adviser Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi.