Maryville College brings dining hall into the modern era
In vintage photographs, happy housewives make old chrome appliances and midcentury kitchens seem charming, but for the dining staff at Maryville College, they were a living nightmare.
“I think they just prayed for the day they would actually get their new kitchen,” says James Dulin, general manager for Metz Culinary Management at the Maryville, Tenn., school. “We did cook for a while in that 1960s kitchen, and I can tell you, it drove everybody crazy.”
Features such as steam kettles and manpower-reliant dish rooms were on the chopping block when Maryville’s Margaret Ware Dining Room underwent a $2 million renovation, completed over the course of two summers. But while Dulin and others, including Director of Culinary Development Ryan McNulty and Metz District Manager Dennis Daley, were excited to bring the 104-year-old Pearsons Hall, which houses the dining room, into the 21st century, they also wanted to respect its roots. The original, exposed brick and archways within Ware have been restored and help accent the room’s origins without feeling dated, Dulin says.
“We really focused on a lot of historical aspects of the building,” Dulin says. “A lot of the brick fascia on the old building was able to be spotlighted, especially on the entrance side and the far side of the servery area. It really does accent the history of this building.”
That history includes a porch; large, sturdy columns; and a veranda in the Pearson Hall lobby, which was brought into the present with a small c-store and coffee shop featuring locally roasted beans. While students make up the main customer base at all Pearson foodservice outlets, staff, faculty and commuters are prevalent in the morning, Dulin says, and retail sales have more than doubled since the revamp.
Once inside Margaret Ware, service has changed from burgers held in hot boxes and mainly back-of-house prep to self-serve pizza and customizable sandwiches. “A concentration of made-to-order and fresh product production at each station have definitely increased our staffing,” Dulin says, though advance hiring and training eliminated bumps in the road.
Though the buzz over the redesign means the volume of diners has jumped from about 300 to 550 students at lunch without much increase in seating, Dulin says Margaret Ware’s popularity hasn’t caused crowding issues. “The style of service is more spread out, there’s more choice, and … it helps diffuse the crowds that come in. It doesn’t mean that lines don’t form, but we’re able to get them in and fed and fat, and conversations going … or staring at their cellphones,” he laughs.
The inviting atmosphere along with increased food quality and variety make the door rates at Margaret Ware “very competitive versus comparable restaurants in town,” Dulin says. “I think the students are happy; I think the school is overjoyed with what’s been accomplished; and … our employees are floored with the new, more efficient kitchen,” he says.