LOS ANGELES—After 10 years of planning and building, the new 192,000-square-foot Ronald Tutor Campus Center opened last month at 35,000-student University of Southern California, complete with nine dining concepts. The five-story building is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Kris Klinger, director of USC Hospitality, said the center’s dining options are indicative of the increasing culinary sophistication of college students. He believes the new center is leading the way in changing how universities think about on-campus dining.
Moreton Fig: One of the concepts Klinger is most excited about is Moreton Fig, an 8,000-square-foot restaurant named for two century-old Moreton Bay fig trees that grow in front of the space. The restaurant was created in partnership with Lark Creek Restaurant Group.
“A business partner connected me with Lark Creek,” Klinger said. “We talked and decided this would be the perfect partnership. We worked together to create the concept and the menu. Lark Creek provided us help with recipes and their team is helping our team train all the new chefs, servers and bartenders. Our department will manage the day-to-day operations and Lark Creek will assist on a regular basis, especially because we want to make sure the menu stays fresh and current.“
Klinger said at the old Commons there was a sit-down restaurant that offered a nicer setting than other facilities, but Moreton Fig is a step above that. The menu focuses on upscale, seasonal farm-to-table cuisine, including vegetarian and vegan options. Menu items include blackened mahi mahi sliders, sheep’s milk ricotta and herb cannelloni baked in an heirloom tomato ragout, and a baby spinach and gruyère tart.
“We really wanted to take this restaurant to another level,” Klinger said. “We hired an amazing chef [Todd Koenigsberg] and we are focusing on the flavor and presentation. We thought the university needed a place like this.”
Lemonade: The campus center brought in another new partnership in the form of L.A.’s Lemonade concept, which was created by Chef Alan Jackson. According to the brand’s Web site, the concept is described as “part lemonade stand, part grade school cafeteria.” Klinger said the menu features comfort food items with a twist.
“It also really focuses on seasonal items, which I’m a big fan of for several reasons,” Klinger said. “One, it gives you fresh offerings on a regular basis. Two, it’s cost-effective for the customers and the business, and three, you can get creative and have fun with the menu. Alan does a lot of that.”
The menu features “Marketplace” selections such as Brussels sprouts with Parmesan cheese, “Fish & Fowl” options such as a citrus poached salmon, and sandwiches like grilled ham with Manchego cheese and quince on rosemary bread. The restaurant also features an assortment of lemonades including flavors such as cucumber mint, raspberry and ginger.
Another new concept for USC Hospitality is Seeds Marketplace, which Klinger said is modeled after several area upscale markets including, to some extent, Whole Foods with its high-quality food stations.
“It’s not a normal market,” Klinger said. “It has groceries, beverages and home-meal replacements available, but it also has made-to-order sandwich and salad stations, a rotating hot food station and a made-to-order ice cream sandwich and dessert station. It’s definitely an upscale concept.”
Trusted brands: Among all the new dining concepts, there are some students will find familiar. A new version of the old favorite Traditions Pub is located on the center’s underground level, adjacent to a student lounge/performance space area called Tommy’s Place.
“I used to bartend at Traditions when I was in school here,” Klinger said. “Traditions is a full bar, but it also has an upscale pub food component that is great. We serve items like spinach and artichoke dip, a pulled pork quesedilla, chilled edamame, buffalo wings and a pot roast melt. We try to add our own twist to it and we’ve done that with the food offerings at Traditions.”
There are also several national concepts located in the center’s plaza level food court including Panda Express, California Pizza Kitchen, Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, Carl’s Jr. and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
“We did a survey and asked students what concepts they wanted to see on campus,” Klinger said. The No. 1 response was Panda Express followed by CPK. Those two locations have been busy already and the students aren’t even here yet. All these franchises have been great to work with.”
Working with all the different concepts has been one of the biggest challenges for Klinger and his team during the prep work for the campus center.
“Beast is a good word for [the campus center],” Klinger said. “By the end of September we will have opened 14 different units, which is crazy to think about. We have these nine in the campus center and then we are also opening units in the hospital on campus.
“As far as the challenges, I think a big one has been working with all the different concepts and brands to make sure that we are in compliance and that everybody is trained properly. Hiring that many people at once has been a challenge at times. Our department added about 10 new managers and we will have added about 200 employees by the time everything is said and done.
“We are looking to these projects to substantially increase our revenue, which all goes back to the university. Our department has grown substantially during the last three years. Three years ago our budget was to exceed $35 million in revenue, this year, with all these new units, we expect to exceed $50 million.”
For more photos of the concepts at the campus center, visit our Facebook page, here.