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David Davidson

May-June 2018

David Davidson

Photograph by Stu Rosner


David Davidson

Photograph by Stu Rosner

Times have changed since David Davidson started in food service in 1982, managing a Somerville McDonald’s. Food ethics have become a cultural flashpoint, making his role more complex and more central to Harvard’s perceived values. His team at Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS), where he is managing director, works to make meals more “plant-forward”: “Now, I wouldn’t characterize myself as a vegetarian. Tofu—I could take it or leave it. But last week I had a tofu burger, and I was like, ‘Wow!’” he enthuses. “We’re slowly going to change people’s minds about what they should be eating. We’re meeting with the Lentil Board [Saskatchewan Pulse Growers] to learn about different ways to use lentils.” At the same time: “We are not the food police! Our job is to provide options. The football players come in and get their 12 chicken breasts.” Raised on the North Shore (his parents worked alternating shifts at General Electric), Davidson started at HUDS in 1991, as manager of the Dudley House Café. After stints at Yale, the Back Bay Restaurant Group, and Phillips Exeter, he missed Harvard. Exeter was small: “We were feeding 600 or 700 kids.” In 2007, he returned to HUDS, where he oversees 650 staff members who deliver 27,000 meals per day—and is looking to expand. He’s bidding on the cafés at Harvard Medical School, currently run by an outside contractor. “Our entry-level dishwashers start at $21.89 an hour—I’m very proud of that. But we’re competing with very low labor costs in the service industry,” he says. How does he convince clients to choose HUDS? “I’m exceptionally good at developing relationships. I always say, ‘You’re Harvard, I’m Harvard, and we’re going to do everything possible to achieve your mission.’” 

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