Getting engrained

By Becky Schilling, Editor

ASU opens new sustainable restaurant with an educational focus.

At A Glance: Arizona State University

• Engrained is a new sit-dow, sustainable restaurant that opened in ASU's Memorial Union Sept. 15, 2008

•The average check is $10.18

•On average, there are 260 lunch covers a day

•A major part of Engrained's mission is to educate consumers on ways to reduce their environmental footprint

When it comes to buzz words, perhaps none is more prominent right now in foodservice than sustainability. Operators and customers are becoming increasingly concerned with their environmental footprints, and that concern is paving the way for significant operational changes. One such change can be seen at the 53,000-student University of Arizona in Tempe, where a new sit-down restaurant dedicated to sustainable dining opened Sept. 15.  

Called Engrained, the restaurant is located on the second floor of the Memorial Union. Engrained is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday, and lunch only Friday. Everything about Engrained, from the food to the seats to the servers’ uniforms, is sustainable. The restaurant’s food is locally sourced, the 250 seats are fashioned from recycled seatbelts and the servers’ shirts are made from bamboo.

Engrained is the latest effort by ASU’s foodservice management company, Aramark, to bring environmental efforts to the forefront in operations. “We want Engrained to be an educational hub for sustainability,” says Krystal Nelson, Aramark’s marketing manager for ASU’s Dining Services. “We want to bring in everyone in the community to learn about environmental practices, to get tips and to see these practices and tips in practice.” 

Mission: Aramark and ASU hope to accomplish this educational goal through a six-point mission. Each point, which Aramark calls an intention, outlines a specific operational plan to comply with sustainability goals. This mission is posted on a wall at the entrance to the restaurant, and hostesses give first-time customers a tour of Engrained to explain the mission.

The first intention is “Radius 150,” which is a commitment to purchase food within a 150-mile radius of the campus. “Our partnerships with local farms and suppliers support the growth and availability of fresh whole foods—raised, grown and harvested sustainably—positively impacting our health, local and global economies,” the mission intention reads. According to Katrina Shum, sustainability manager for Dining Services, this intention includes menuing cage-free eggs and chicken, all-natural beef, Fair Trade coffee and seafood purchased in alignment with the recommendations of the Monterey Bay Sustainable Seafood Watch, a guide to sustainable seafood purchasing. Dining Services also uses produce from Campus Harvest, an on-campus program where produce is grown, stored, cleaned and prepared for use in the dining facilities.

The second intention is “Wall-to-Wall,” a commitment to “providing a healthy environment for our patrons and staff and to minimize our environmental footprint to help protect our finite natural resources.” The servery reflects this through the use of locally sourced Arizona sandstone, tables and chairs made from sustainably harvested wood, a bamboo wall finishing and recycled aluminum trim. Energy Star appliances are used in the kitchen, and energy efficient lighting is used in the dining areas.

“Buy Smart” is the third intention. Dining Services tries to make environmentally responsible and ethical purchases. In addition to the bamboo uniforms, Engrained also uses 100% unbleached, napkins made from recycled paper and Green Seal-certified cleaning products.

Although the mission statement was written when Engrained was developed, the intentions are also a guideline for other Dining Services operations on campus. One example is the fourth intention, “Waste Not, Want Not.” There is trayless dining in the three all-you-care-to-eat dining halls on campus, which Dining Services estimates saves more than 77,600 pounds of food waste and 400,000 gallons of water a year. In addition, 100% of used cooking oil is reused for biodiesel and other industrial uses. Shum adds that they also recycle cardboard, plastics, paper and aluminum and that composting will begin soon on campus.

Reducing the department’s carbon footprint is the basis of the fifth intention, “Daily Commute.” Dining Services streamlines deliveries when possible and uses its network of local suppliers to reduce carbon emissions.

The final intention is “Around the Community,” which is a commitment to “support causes in our local community and around the world.” The major aspect of this pillar is the educational outreach found throughout the restaurant. In addition to posting the six mission intentions, throughout Engrained there is information about waste, recycling and sustainability, as well as tips on how to reduce your personal environmental footprint.

Menu and service: Chelsea Dufrene, director of Engrained Café for Aramark, describes the restaurant’s menu as, “American fare with a classical French and Italian influence.” Dufrene adds that Engrained is a fast-casual dining option. There is weekly rotating menu with vegetarian, vegan and organic options available every day. Because of the “Radius 150” mission intention, Executive Chef Jerome Fressinier features local products in menu items. For example, in October when heirloom tomatoes were in season, Fressinier used them to make an heirloom tomato bisque soup with sharp Cheddar croutons.

Engrained offers made-to-order pizza from a hearth oven, sushi, pasta, soups, salads, grill items, paninis and desserts. Meal prices are higher than at other campus dining options due to the higher cost associated with purchasing items to meet sustainability goals. Pizzas are in the $8 range; sushi averages $9; and other entrées are priced between $8 and $11.75. Beverages are included in the price of all menu items. The average check for the first two weeks of service was $10.18. Dufrene says most students are dining at Engrained for lunch, with an average of 260 covers during that meal period. Popular items include a half-pound, all-natural beef burger and a free-range chicken Caesar salad. The housemade prickly pear tea is also a favorite.

Because of Engrained’s environmental commitment, there are no paper menus. Instead, patrons select items after walking through the servery to look at sample plates of the day’s options. Digital menu boards are also used. Customers then order their meals at cashier stations. Waiters bring orders to the tables, usually within three to six minutes. Customers can chose to dine inside or outside on the patio. “We want people to feel like it’s a treat to eat here,” Dufrene says. “Quality food and our sustainability efforts are what bring people here.”

Dining Services is running several promotions to attract patrons to Engrained. The first is a three-course meal for $15.99. Available at dinner only, the promotion offers a choice of either a soup or salad, with an entrée and a dessert. The promotion does not include sushi or filet mignon. Another dinner promotion runs Tuesday and Thursday, when two patrons can dine for $19.99. Each person selects one of two starters and one of three entrées.

Sam Zamrik, vice president of operations for Aramark/Sun Devil Dining, says the Engrained restaurant concept will expand to other universities, but the name and brand Engrained will be used exclusively at ASU.

At a Glance Arizona State University Engrained Snapshot:

  • Engrained is a new sit-down, sustainable restaurant that opened in ASU’s Memorial Union on Sept. 15.
  • The average check is $10.18.
  • On average, there are 260 lunch covers a day.
  • A major part of Engrained’s mission is to educate consumers on ways to reduce their environmental footprint.