A foodservice facility renovation at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y.—part of a larger campus center overhaul—has put an out-of-the-way foodservice outlet on customers’ foodservice map. The renovation accomplished a number of things, such as: the opening of a new student café, on September 12; implementation of exhibition cooking and new menu choices; elimination of a competing venue; and introduction of a debit card system that can be used in the café, food kiosks and a future coffee kiosk.
The operation that had previously used the space was totally gutted at the beginning of the year-long project. It had served food off a single line and was, as Chartwells’ director of food service Jim Husky recalls, fairly dated and definitely not customer-friendly.
Worse, the menu was limited, working off a simple grill and deli area. Chartwells took over the account in June 2004. “It wasn’t anything to speak of,” Husky notes.
Setting foot: The project involved implementation of up-to-date foodservice concepts as well as facilities components that manage or affect traffic flow in the building. “We had to overcome an enormous challenge in that the facility is located on the second floor, off the main traffic pattern of the college,” says foodservice consultant Tom MacDermott, FCSI, pres. of The Clarion Group in Kingston, NH. The facility was designed by Clarion Group vice pres. Angela Phelan and Joe Raymond, FCSI, of Raymond/Raymond Associates in Chester, N.Y.
Before the renovation, MacDermott says, less than 20% of the college’s population “ever set foot in the place.” One way to change that was to have the architects reconfigure a pair of stairways. “There are now two wide stairways that run directly from the lobby upstairs. Structurally we simply weren’t able to bring the cafeteria downstairs.” The staircases deposit students and faculty only feet from the café’s entrance.
Where the action is: “That often happens in dining facilities in schools,” says Phelan. “They drop them into basements, on upper floors and other odd places. So it has to be attractive, and it has to be something that they’ll want to go to. That was what was wrong in the first place. The food now is very action-oriented. The guys are cooking on the line, which is a curious and interesting thing for most people to watch. It’s not just seeing a hamburger [cooked].”
Another way to build foot traffic was to redirect lunch-time diners who had been frequenting a small fast-food operation on the lower level. It was removed and its menu of pizza, burgers and some other basic items was consolidated into the main café.
The new, foodcourt-style facility features nearly all to-order exhibition preparation of meals at the counter, including:
Out of steam: “No ‘steam table’ food is served,” says MacDermott. “All hot meals are prepared to order at the exhibition cooking station or charbroiler. We’re focused on the nutrition and the beauty of food. I think that food is beautiful. I don’t think of it as a commodity, but as an enhancement to life. I think it should look that way as well as taste that way.”
The total cost of the kitchen’s equipment package, according to MacDermott, was about $800,000. The total price tag for the renovation was about $2 million.
The designers went out of their way to avoid steam tables, Phelan explains, “because I don’t think that steam table food appeals to anybody. We especially like the idea of people being able to see their food made in front of them. When it or anything is made early in the day and kept on a steam table it breaks down. It becomes much less desirable and much less attractive.”
MacDermott specifically opted for a charbroiler instead of the more common flat-topped grill. “You get a better burger, chicken sandwich or what have you off of a charbroiler,” he explains.
The layout is designed to accommodate a couple of thousand people—enrollment is about 12,000—per meal period. The café opens for breakfast, and lunch service lasts at least until late in the afternoon. The operation is staffed by a team of 13.
Beautiful food: College students “should have access to beautiful food,” Phelan believes. “Everybody should be able to know what a fresh asparagus or string bean looks like, and not have to live there through four years of school eating mysterious, unattractive vegetables.”
Atmosphere also plays a large part in the new dining experience. The renovation added a new dining room that extends out from the side of the campus center building, and has picture windows on three sides. “It’s really a very inviting place to be,” notes MacDermott. “What they’ve done is push the dining side of the building out over the quad so the kids have a much prettier vista and place to eat,” Phelan notes. “The whole idea was to make it as ‘retail’ as possible.”
The result, MacDermott says, is “a nice, wide open space that is more of a foodcourt than a conventional café. I spent the day there last [month], the day after it opened, and customers found it very easy to navigate. They seemed to enjoy it—particularly being able to direct how their meals are being prepared.”
The proprietary Ritazza Café and bakery kiosk in the Campus Center’s main lobby, as well as the kiosks in other buildings, will debut in January.
Revenue this year is projected at $1.4 million. Food cost, combined with the extensive catering program (an estimated 40% of revenue) is 38.2%. The average ring in the café is $3.81.