Inside the University of Southern California's latest concepts

By 
Dana Moran, Managing Editor

USC pastry case

With a prime location in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s foodie capitols, the University of Southern California has plenty of dining competition. So when Kris Klinger, assistant vice president of retail operations, discovered that students were heading off campus for sushi and noodle bowls, he knew it was time to take action. The construction of Fertitta Hall, part of the university’s Marshall School of Business, provided the perfect opportunity.

Fertitta keeps students on campus for Asian options ...

USC sushi

With one of the largest international populations of any major research university, the demand for quality Asian food is off the charts. “We know they’re looking for something they’re familiar with that also tastes good and is authentic,” Klinger says. 

... with made-to-order top of mind

USC Asian bowls

Made-to-order sushi and Asian bowls, as well as bao and bahn mi sandwiches, are marquee options at Fertitta, which has been selling more than $12,000 of volume a day, a 100% jump from Klinger’s initial projections.

A tighter focus

USC pastry case

Previously, Klinger says, Popovich functioned as a catchall space, with a hot well and items from the commissary kitchen. Recognizing that the university lacked an eatery specifically focused on Mediterranean cuisine, USC Dining chose to move in that direction, with acai bowls, salads, coffee and wraps also on offer, and seating for 30-35 people. “We had a pastry case in mind as well; that doesn’t go in line with healthy, but it will be yummy,” says Associate Director of USC Auxiliary Services in Hospitality Gary Marschall.

An MBA student destination

USC dining

Though the two space share a courtyard, and their buildings are literally 10 feet apart, the intimacy and convenience of Popovich makes it popular among weekend executive MBA students, who use the space during their breaks. During the redesign planning process, Klinger and his team added components that allow students to customize their workspaces; all tables are movable, with one designed to unfold and create a partition for privacy. “We were smart about it, because knew who those users were, and asked what they were looking for,” Klinger says. “It’s greatly benefitted us.”

Eye toward adaptability

USC kitchen

While international flavors—especially Asian—are the hottest thing in foodservice right now, that may not always be the case. With this in mind, Klinger says the 150-seat space was designed with flexibility looking at the future. “As far as trends and how they ebb and flow, the expectation is that [Asian is] not going to die out in the next 3-5 years,” he says. “And as it does, if it does, we set up the equipment in that venue to be able to support other concepts as well, so we can swap it out.” The service space was created to flow a certain way for made-to-order, so USC can bring in deli options and improve upon the salad station.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
food snap

We started a 50-member vegan team in response to students expressing the need for more vegan options. Between our monthly meetings, students are asked to take photos of foods they eat in and out of the dining halls to give us a true picture of the kinds of things they like and the kinds of foods that cause disappointment. This exercise has sparked a lot of conversation and given us more insight into what we could do better.

Ideas and Innovation
hybrid worker

Some of our employees can work four 10-hour days. It’s really helped with balance. We’ve also created a lot of hybrid positions, such as a personal services assistant and foodservice worker role. It allows workers to pick up more shifts and cover both positions.

Ideas and Innovation
cheeseburger

We set up an interactive collaboration with our dietetics department where students worked with our culinary team to test how recipes are imagined and produced. One of the recipes they came up with was a barbecue tempeh sandwich, which they believed was a great option for vegan students across campus. We added the sandwich to our On the Go program and then expanded it to our vegan station on campus due to its success.

Ideas and Innovation
salad bowl

We have reorganized our salad bars to not only include the traditional DIY salad ingredients, but also several daily entree salads. Our students requested 32-ounce heavy glass salad bowls that have been wildly popular. The big bowls allow students to load up on their favorite salads and customize with additional ingredients from around the servery. We have seen a significant surge in usage that cuts across all groups, including athletes.

FSD Resources