Tour CU Boulder’s new tech-filled dining center

curry road station

The new Village Center Dining and Community Commons was created as a gathering place for students living in the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Williams Village. Tech filled and community focused, the 113,225-square-foot complex houses such amenities as a health center and mailing room, as well as five food stations, a demonstration kitchen and a late-night eatery—with a grocerant and greenhouse set to open in the fall. Here’s a look at the new space. 

Photos by: Jesse Petersen

Destination dining

The dining area in Village Center Dining and Community Commons features five food stations with cuisines ranging from American comfort food to Mediterranean. Director of Campus Dining Services Pat Houle says that the dining team considered student feedback when deciding which items to feature, but also made sure to offer destination dishes that are not available in other eateries across campus, such as curry. 

Hands on

fender blender bikes

At Toast, Village Center’s all-day-breakfast station, students can blend their own smoothies using two stationary blender bikes equipped with pedal-powered blenders. When making a smoothie, staff fill the blender with ingredients and students start pedaling to propel the blenders (the length of time they bike determines the smoothie’s consistency). Regular blenders are also on hand for those who prefer a smoothie made the traditional way.

Students aiming to prepare more of their own meals can also sign up for cooking classes at Village Center’s demonstration kitchen. The space features 18 induction burners and several wall monitors to display video during the classes. Currently, staff are looking to partner with faculty and local chefs to teach classes. 

Late-night study space and eatery

recycled chairs

After the main food stations close down for the evening, the dining space transforms into a study area on certain nights. Students looking for a meal while they study can visit The Grotto, a late-night eatery serving classic American fare from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. The space also features a stage and an outdoor fire pit. 

Dining hall with a view

outside seating

Unlike some of the buildings at Williams Village, Village Center has direct views of the nearby Flatiron mountains. When designing the space, school officials wanted to feature the building’s unique views and installed floor-to-ceiling windows that darken in response to sunlight. Along with eliminating the need for blinds, the windows have a sustainability halo, providing enough natural light for the front of the house to work off daylight alone from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Back-of-house upgrades

the grange station

Village Center is the first dining hall on campus to deviate from food pulping and instead use a biodigester. Associate Director of Campus Dining Facilities and Operations Juergen Friese says that so far, staff have been happy with the biodigester as it creates less mess than pulping and the water byproduct can be disposed of via a regular sewer. The university has also partnered with the city of Boulder, which uses the byproduct in its water filtration system.

Along with the biodigester, the dining team also outfitted Village Center’s back of house with new kitchen tech such as close-loop refrigerators and freezers, heat-sensitive variable-speed fans and walk-in coolers that are remotely cooled from a compressor room.  

Beyond dine-in

village center evergreens

While Village Center made its debut in January, the dining team is working on two additional concepts due to open this fall. First is a grocerant located on the first floor that will offer c-store items and fresh produce, as well as grab-and-go food available as part of students’ meal plans.

Staff are also finalizing the design on a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse that will house 156 grow towers, each of which will hold around 40 growing pods. The dining team hopes to grow enough lettuce in the greenhouse to supply all of the salad bars on campus. 

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