USC revamps two on-site cafes

Dana Moran, Managing Editor

usc asian remodel

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 opportunity.

Klinger and Gary Marschall, associate director of USC auxiliary services in hospitality, shared photos of both the new Fertitta Cafe and a revamped version of the business school’s Popovich Cafe, and chatted with FoodService Director magazine about their thought process and hopes for both.

Keeping students on campus for Asian options

With one of the largest international populations of any major research university, the demand for quality Asian food is off the charts. “We know [students are] looking for something they’re familiar with that also tastes good and is authentic,” Klinger says. 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 a day, a 100% jump from Klinger’s initial projections.

bao bun

Revamping Popovich meant a narrowed focus

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, Mediterranean dishes and wraps also on offer, and seating for 30 to 35 people. “We had a pastry case in mind as well; that doesn’t go in line with healthy,” Marschall says.

popovich interior

Popovich is designed as an MBA destination

Though the two cafes share a courtyard, and their buildings are just 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 benefited us.”

Fertitta’s space can adapt to changing menu trends

While international flavors—especially Asian—are hot 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. “[But] 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 food, so USC can bring in deli options and improve upon the salad station as needed.

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