J&W Delivers “Contemporary Rustic” Italian Concept

Red Sauce's pastas, pizzas and sandwiches built buzz at J&W.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Red Sauce cafe was designed to provide a casual
hangout space for students as well as serve them
delicious food.

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—When the time came to design a concept for a vastly underserved area of campus at 10,700-student Johnson & Wales University, contemporary rustic Italian became the winning idea, according to Steven Sandblom, director of Campus Dining.

“Whenever you do a poll of what students want it is always pizza or burgers,” Sandblom says. “We already have a burger concept on campus and [Italian] can still provide a lot of variety. We wanted to go with a quick-casual concept so it would be something students could eat very quickly between classes that would also have all-natural and delicious food.”

The concept became Red Sauce, which opened in September 2010. Red Sauce provides students with a lunch, dinner and late-night dining option, open from 11 am to midnight every day. All food is made fresh using natural ingredients, says Sandblom. The concept is doing about 10,000 transactions per week. Sandblom says the department had something very specific in mind when considering the design and feel of the café.

“My boss wanted the place to be ‘contemporary rustic,’ which we made fun of him for,” Sandblom says. “What does that even mean? So we worked with our architect and they rolled with it. The design uses a lot of stone and warm woods. To bring in the contemporary aspect we used digital menu boards and a lot of stainless steel. By the time it was finished it was exactly contemporary rustic. [The location] has become an unofficial gathering space for students.”

Menu: The menu at Red Sauce includes pizzas—by the slice and by the pie—made-to-order pastas, sandwiches, calzones and salads. Sandblom says the most popular item by far is the chicken broccoli Alfredo, which features penne, fresh broccoli, sliced chicken, garlic and a classic Alfredo sauce. Other menu highlights include a rustic meat lasagna; shrimp puttanesca, made with capers, anchovies, kalamata olives and red sauce; a classic Italian sandwich, which is ham, salami, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomato, oil and balsamic vinegar; and a chicken pesto calzone, which features diced chicken, roasted red peppers, pesto and mozzarella. No individual menu item is more than $6.

“[When entering the café] students can do one of two things,” Sandblom says. “If they want to eat really quickly, they can order using the self-serve kiosk—you just swipe your ID card and get served. Or students can wait in line and order from the cashier if they have a little more time. We offer different value menus where students can order a pasta or two slices of pizza or a sandwich or salad with a side and a drink. It’s really cost effective for the kids. We try to get everything out in six to eight minutes. We accept meal plans as well as cash and credit.”

Sandblom says the biggest challenge with Red Sauce has been keeping up with the crowds.

“This place has just been way busier than we could have imagined,” Sandblom says. “It was just so busy we didn’t have enough walk-in space. We had to beg the culinary college to give us a walk-in on the loading dock. The location was so needed that from the second we opened the door it was a challenge to keep the flow going. Training was also a challenge, of course. It’s mostly student run. We have about 40 student employees. The kids have been amazing.”

Sandblom says the key to building this retail experience has been satisfying the needs of his customers.

“Just listen to what the needs of your customers are and try to fill those needs without getting too crazy,” Sandblom says. “We kept it simple. We just used all-natural ingredients to prepare good-tasting foods to order. Keep it simple and keep it fresh.”