Ibby's restaurant at Washington University in St. Louis delivers an intimate setting in an unconventional setting.
ST. LOUIS—Tucked away inside a bustling campus building at 11,300-student Washington University in St. Louis is an intimate 50-seat restaurant called Ibby’s, the newest addition to Bon Appétit’s dining program at the university. Nadeem Siddiqui, resident district manager for Bon Appétit at the university, said the restaurant was created to help foster a sense of community.
“This campus is really a community and a lot of that sense of community is built around breaking bread,” Siddiqui said. “We wanted to create a place that was distinct from the rest of our program on campus. If we have a parent come in who wants to take a student to a sit-down restaurant, now we have a great option. It’s a very special place.”
The restaurant has 50-seats inside and, weather permitting, a 50-seat dining area outside. Siddiqui said there is also a chef’s table, which seats eight to 10 people, that can be reserved for special events. Siddiqui said it is one of the only campus restaurants that he knows of that allows students to pay with their meal plan. The name Ibby’s comes from Chancellor Emeritus William Danforth’s late wife, Ibby, who was known for her love of butterflies. Butterflies can be found on the restaurant’s logo and other promotional materials.
“The response from the student body and the community has been great,” Siddiqui said. “I think it is unique to excel with a restaurant like this on a college campus. We offer lunch as a buffet because of the campus population’s schedule. People don’t have time to sit down and order food. We get a lot of guests from faculty, staff and students who utilize that service. Dinner is from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and is waiter service.”
Jill Duncan, director of marketing and communications for Bon Appétit at the university, says the restaurant’s location helps create a romantic feel to the space.
“I would describe the feel of the restaurant as intimate and classy,” Duncan said. “It’s right in the center of all the hustle and bustle, but it’s kind of tucked away. It’s an upscale dining venue, but it’s also casual.”
Sustainable menu: The restaurant serves a $9.95 buffet lunch and a full-service dinner. Those who are of age also can purchase wine or beer. The menu focuses on local, sustainable and seasonal items. A recent buffet lunch menu included items such as a dilled celery, pear and hazelnut salad; gnocchi with pumpkin, bacon, balsamic and sage butter; chicken with raisins, and mushroom polenta. A recent dinner menu featured items such as a pan-seared local trout, a butternut squash risotto with green beans and toasted almond butter, and a local charcuterie plate that included an old-fashioned summer sausage salami with pickled vegetable gardenia and seasonal fruit chutney.
“Our traditional chicken burger, which we make from scratch [and is glazed with local honey and cider, topped with celery root and apple slaw] is very popular and tasty,” Duncan said. “We also have this vegan polenta dish with a mushroom ragout that is very popular.”
The local/sustainable aspect to the restaurant is very important to Siddiqui and the Bon Appétit mission.
“One of the things we have really tried with this restaurant is to educate the community on sustainability,” Siddiqui said. “Right outside the restaurant we have a little herb garden where chefs can pick fresh herbs. Our goal is to use about 80% to 85% local items in the restaurant. Our chef who is in charge of the program is extremely talented and has made great connections with local farmers and communities.”
Marketing: Duncan said her department has been working hard to get the word out about Ibby’s.
“Trying to find the balance between marketing to the different groups has been an interesting challenge,” Duncan said. “We try to tie in a lot of our larger campus events into Ibby’s. Recently, to tie into the students’ celebration of Diwali, we brought in a cookbook author/chef who is Indian and did events at the restaurant with Indian food.”
Duncan said she also tries to give faculty and staff special incentives to stop by Ibby’s. “We do a special discount if [faculty or staff] come in at a certain time. We are trying to capture those customers whether it’s for a lunch, business meeting or something they can take home with them. So we have a to-go menu and we give them special discounts for ordering from that. Anytime we do an event at the restaurant, I do a lot of work marketing it to the St. Louis community., which is always looking for a new place to eat. It’s kind of a romantic setting on a university campus. We have the Edison Theater here on campus that is one of the city’s best theaters, so there is an opportunity to do dinner-and-a-show promotions.”