Design

Fostering a fresh community at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Stand alone concepts feature different flavors in this new dining hall.

The university’s new dining hall features a variety of food stations, small plates and sustainable initiatives. 

In the fall of 2013, students at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota were getting acclimated to more than just new class schedules. With nearly 300 double-occupancy rooms, three community lounges, multiple study and music rooms as well as a community student kitchen, the new 17th Avenue Residence Hall was designed to foster a community environment for the growing university population. A central focus for the new building is its dining facility, Fresh Food Company, managed by Aramark Higher Education. “From a dining perspective, we felt it was a really good idea to bring the most current framework of services forward for our residential students and the University of Minnesota,” explains Karen DeVet, senior resident district manager for Aramark at the university. “We don’t have any other facility on campus that’s like this Fresh Food Company, so we’re really excited about being able to show this particular brand to our residential students.” 

Beyond the all-you-care-eat format and a few sustainability measures, Fresh Food Company stands apart from the other seven resident dining options. Multiple food preparation and service stations outline the space, supporting the hall’s community environment and encouraging interaction between students and staff, and modern colors and accents adorn the open seating areas. 

Items are served on small plates to maximize pricing value as well as flavor options. “It’s more small plate design to encourage students to try a variety of different tastes and flavors throughout the facility,” explains Suzanne Hedrick, district marketing manager for Aramark at Minnesota. “So you may not get a full nine-inch plate of food, but because the menu is unique to this particular facility, we really want to encourage [students] to try the different flavors. You can get a lot more variety because you’re not taking food that from a portion perspective is large.”

Although students are encouraged to move about the area and try multiple things, each food station operates as a stand-alone concept, offering a complete meal on a fall and spring seasonal menu rotation. “So many of the students that eat with us and live with us come down for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they love the variety that Fresh Food Company makes,” Hedrick says. 

The Mongolian Grill is the centerpiece of the dining space, where made-to-order items are prepared and served. “We’ve seen many students engage with our staff there and while they talk to the worker, they get to know his name, and with the open kitchen concept and the stations being stand-alone, we’ve really created that wow as the students come in,” Hedrick says.

Traditional and specialty items are served at the grill station, such as salmon BLTs, with all the necessary toppings. “A student can walk to the grill station and get all their sides and their toppings at the same time along with a dessert,” Hedrick explains. 

The dedicated vegetarian station features different vegetable items sautéed to order, while traditional home-style options are available at the home station, such as roast beef and mashed potatoes. And at the pizza station, students may find pizza one day and pasta the next and appetizers such as artichoke dip with pita crisps on the third day. 

In addition, special items are often featured, such as chicken nugget night and a caramel apple dipping special, highlighting local apples. “Oh my goodness, the students loved it. It’s just apples and caramel, but when you put a staff member there that’s really engaging and talking with the students and creating the apples to order, it was a fantastic opportunity to really highlight those seasonal items,” Hedrick says. 

All of the campus dining facilities use reusable serviceware and are trayless, helping to reduce the use of detergent, energy, water and waste. But at the 17th Avenue hall, in addition to the new menu approach, the design also incorporates a number of other sustainable elements, such as energy-efficient equipment, composting and recycling programs and tabletops made from recycled materials.

“The entrance into the hall and then entrance into our dining space is made out of reclaimed wood from Minneapolis,” DeVet says. “It’s called Wood from the Hood, and a lot of the wood is from trees that were blown down during the tornado that came through Minneapolis two summers ago.” 

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