Levi Semadeni, General Manager, Catering and Restaurants, UBC Food Services
Levi Semadeni is our General Manager, Catering and Restaurants, and it’s the morning of another big day for the Sage team, with a wedding right here this afternoon and several other big catering jobs throughout the day—at other Vancouver campus venues his team now supports.
As he tours me around the Arthur Erickson-designed, mid-century modern building, he is quick to show me the work they’ve recently completed to enhance the spaces for guests, especially the work to beautify the Sage patio and courtyard, which involved a lot of cleaning, extra attention to the reflecting pools, a few coats of fresh paint where needed, and filling the planters with vibrant flower arrangements.
But most importantly, he takes me through the back of house areas, showing me all the ways they’ve upgraded and improved everything from the stairwells and the staff washrooms/changerooms to the prep kitchen, which received a major overhaul to make it a more functional, modular and ergonomic space.
“It’s crucial that we invest in our staff here at Sage and give them a really well-kept, practical and efficient space for getting ready, work and breaks. It’s where we all spend a lot of time, and the pride we take in our back of house sets every member of our team up for success—pride I know will be reflected in the food we serve and the experience we offer our guests.” — Levi Semadeni, General Manager, Catering and Restaurants, UBC Food Services
Sage: summer facts
This summer, Sage is expanding beyond its previous venues, the University Centre, Cecil Green Park House and the Alumni Centre, to add four new venues and increase catering support for our Conferences and Accommodation department.
Sage’s partner venues now include:
- Cecil Green Park House
- Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre
- The Point
- Marine Drive residence
- Ponderosa Commons residence
- Walter Gage residence
Fun fact! Sage also provides catering for UBC President’s events at Norman MacKenzie House, the official President’s residence, and the Office of the President in the Walter C. Koerner Library.
Wedding and event stats
The wedding and event season for Sage extends well beyond the summer now. Between April and October 2023 Sage is catering and coordinating for:
- Over 200 weddings and large events—a few less than last year (when there was a big backlog due to the pandemic), but this year’s are all significantly larger, with the majority hosting over 100 guests and the largest over 250.
- More than 15,000 individual guests.
As a result of the expanded venues and larger weddings and events, revenue is up significantly over last year, with several events each bringing in revenue of $50,000 and above.
The team also made some important changes to catering staff positions this year, creating dedicated bartender and server positions, rather than a general catering role, which would often perform several different duties. They also created Banquet Captain and Banquet Houseperson roles, rather than hosts and drivers, respectively, to build greater flexibility in these foundational positions.
Kudos to the Sage team
“I’d really like to thank every one of the Sage Catering staff,” says Levi. “In particular, Eric Meyer, our chef, really stepped it up this year—also Bogdan Anton, our assistant manager; Alita Parisotto, Colin Dewar, Michael Troyer and Jessalyn Nees, our team of coordinators; Eric Barnard, Zak Woodward and Sam Landry, our supervisors; and Diana Lee, our commissary chef.”
“But our success every day is truly a team effort,” he adds, “so I’d like to give a big shoutout to everyone on the team: our bartenders, servers, banquet captains, banquet housepersons, cooks and, importantly, our general worker heavy staff.”
A big day ahead
I end my tour of Sage on the lower level of the University Centre, where a special event is underway in the Ideas Lounge, a medium-sized space that opens onto the Sage courtyard—a beautiful outdoor patio space and reflecting pool, designed by the esteemed landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander.
As I make my way through the University Centre, this time without my trusty tour guide, I’m careful to stick to the quieter, public hallways, all the while knowing there is a small army of catering staff preparing for a big day just a few metres away.
Additional summer catering
Catering in residence dining
In addition to the catering operation at Sage, Colin Moore, Director, UBC Food Services, reports that summer is also the time for our residence dining teams to pivot their focus to making and serving food for numerous summer conference groups in our residence dining rooms.
With summer service already in full swing, Colin anticipates we will host over 40 different groups and serve more than 15,000 meals to campus visitors at Gather (Place Vanier) and Feast (Totem Park).
There are plenty of additional options for students, faculty, staff and visiting groups who want drop-delivery or pickup catering, and our retail team is very busy supporting this side of the business over the summer.
Options for retail catering include campus favourites, Harvest and Mercante, but also our national franchises, such as Tim Hortons.
Summer for Conferences and Accommodation (C&A)
On both campuses, our conference, group, hotel and hostel businesses faced a big challenge the past few summers, but business is getting much closer to pre-pandemic levels, and these teams are enjoying a busy and vibrant summer season this year.
“This is the smoothest transition on record, starting the season off with Destination UBC, an annual recruitment event that welcomes prospective students and families to the Okanagan campus, showcasing the beauty of our location and all that we offer here at UBCO,” says Jenny DeGelder, Assistant Manager, Front Desk Operations (Okanagan).
C&A Okanagan: Summer facts
The Okanagan C&A team reports that they are seeing similar conference numbers and accommodation bookings as last year, but a steadier stream of business, different from last year which involved spikes in business from several very large groups.
Projected accommodation numbers for summer 2023:
- Total room nights: 15,191
- Individual guests: 23,555
Notable conferences and groups
- Seventeenth CAN-US Columbia River Treaty negotiations.
- Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA) conference, hosted by the School of Engineering.
- The Canadian Ultimate Frisbee Championships is coming to Kelowna, with significant accommodation bookings on campus.
The C&A Okanagan team is also prepared and ready to provide accommodation for forest fire fighters and/or evacuees if and when the call comes, with buildings and spaces already pre-allocated.
C&A Vancouver: Summer facts
The Vancouver C&A team reports that we are seeing an overall stronger summer for academic conferences over last year. And they expect hotel revenue from the tourism sector will exceed last year’s revenue by over 14%.
“We attribute the revenue increase to strong demand and higher regional room rates,” says Allan de Jong, General Manager, Conferences and Accommodation (Vancouver). “Contributing factors include strong travel demand, a stellar Vancouver cruise ship season, and a limited downtown hotel inventory that’s resulting in overflow to UBC.”
Projected accommodation numbers for summer 2023:
- Bookings for Pacific Spirit Hostel, located at Place Vanier residence, already exceed pre-pandemic (2019) levels, with room nights up 2.8% and revenue up 24%—a record surge in demand that is the result of extremely high downtown hotel rates.
- In the West Coast Suites and Gage Suites, projections indicate over 26,000 room nights and roughly $7.1 million in revenue.
Notable academic conferences
- Eighth Pacific Rim Conference on Rheology
- Islet Study Group 2023
- ATLAS Collaboration Meeting 2023
Registration for the Vancouver Summer Program, a UBC program that offers a unique four-week experience for international undergraduate students every July, is up from last year, but still only at 50% of historical levels.
Fun fact! With access to the new studio suites and meeting spaces in q̓əlɬaləməcən leləm̓ (Orca House) at tə šxʷhəleləm̓s tə k̓ʷaƛ̓kʷəʔaʔɬ student residence, several UBC Professors are currently planning small conferences during the fall, an opportunity that was previously not available.
New conferences website in the works
Throughout the winter and spring, C&A Vancouver and SHCS Marketing and Communications have also been hard at work on a new conference website, which will launch later this summer, in advance of the busy fall sales season.