Steampunk renovation at the University of Nevada Reno

When a multi-concept retail dining outlet went virtually ignored by students at the University of Nevada, in Reno, (UNR) the team had to get creative. With research and trends compiled through a partnership with consultant Webb Culinary Design and a desire to deliver an over-the-top experience, a new theme and menu for the unit was established to attract the campus’ millennial population: Steampunked waffles and burritos. 

dining facility

Defined as “a sub-genre of science fiction that features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century,” the Steampunk design incorporates copper, bronze and other metals, reclaimed and salvaged woods and industrial antique pieces combined with modern technology retrofitted into the campus’ existing Fitzgerald Lobby and its industrial modern space.

the works sign

The renovated outlet was renamed The Works and is now home to two themed concepts, Waffler and Forklift Burritos & Bowls.

community table

“The Steampunk connection came when Russ Meyer [associate director of housing operations and dining services] educated the Webb Culinary Design team during the first site visit on UNRs mining and metallurgical engineering program,” Wilkie explains. UNR is one of 13 universities in the U.S. with a mining program. “Gold and precious metal mining in Nevada began in the same period as the Victorian era,” Wilkie says. “This sparked the Steampunk design story, a Victorian craftsman’s vision through a future lens, for The Works. Grounded in industrial modern aesthetic, steeped in metals, showcasing industrial craftsmanship in a fun and fresh new way, the Steampunk movement’s impact is widespread in literature, fashion, design and visual art now landing at The Works in the University of Nevada Reno.”

steam punk aviator girl

From floor to ceiling and wall to wall, the Steampunk story is evident—right down to the service crew’s uniforms, which dining services helped to design. 

vintage mechanical base

Group seating areas are composed of reclaimed salvaged wood tabletops with wrought iron adjustable-height bases. Scattered throughout the dining and lounge area, the tables are accompanied by modern steel and vintage metal dining chairs.

lighting installation banquette area

“Lighting is in the industrial vintage and industrial modern style with visible decorative support structures to add a touch of historic charm in line with the old-is-new and repurposed trend,” explains Susan Wilkie, vice president of Webb Design. “Steampunk art and clock installations hang from a decorative but functional hanging system to preserve the architectural cement wall.”  

club chairs

Aviator-style club chairs with riveted steel clad backs and black leather cushions allow students to comfortably lounge within the space. Oversize black leather studded chairs are set against coppery mesh wall curtains against a two-story unfinished cement wall within the building’s lobby. 

spring break stools

The two concepts in The Works incorporate studded metals with a gear motif throughout. Reclaimed industrial spring barstools—which have already been dubbed “spring break” by the student employees—serve as seating for community tables that are covered in acid-washed metallic copper and bronze tops.

waffle iron

Waffler leverages the current food truck and gourmet sandwich trends but with a spin: waffles as bread. Two waffle styles are available for the chef-driven sandwich recipes, a multigrain format for savory Wafflerz sandwiches and a more traditional sweet format for desserts called Sweet Punks. Incorporating a bit of school spirit, an “N” and “WolfPack” logo are steamed and pressed into each waffle. 

roasted portabella mushroom

The Honey Chile Lime Drizzle on the Atomic Chicken Sandwich and Cranberry Garlic Mayo for the Turkey Avo Bacon Club and its housemade specialty Bacon Candy are already popular. In partnership with the award-winning, fair trade Portland Roasting Company, Waffler also features specialty coffees, coffeehouse signature lattes and espresso beverages. 

chicken chile burrito

Forklift’s menu features Barbacoa Beef, Honey Maple Pulled Pork, Freshly Roasted Lime Chile Chicken, grilled veggies, Three Chile Alarm Spicy Chicken and an array of toppings such as freshly made pico de gallo, tomatillo and garlic sauces and vegetarian black beans, as well as a signature Jicama Cranberry Lime Power Slaw. 


chipmunks chips

A side order of chips at FORKlift, called ChiPUNKS, are lime dusted and presented in a hand-stamped ChiPUNK Character kraft bag. “Consistent food quality and freshness has been our priority since we received our first recipes,” Meyer says. “Everything we serve is made fresh every day in a custom prep kitchen we built exclusively for The Works.”

bbq pulled pork salad

Research found that faculty and students were looking for a Chipotle-style fresh Mexican concept. FORKlift Burritos & Bowls was developed in response to the research, serving chef-driven and authentic recipes on steamed 12-inch tortillas, salad bowls with organic local greens and rice bowls with steamed cilantro white or brown rice.


Want breaking news at your fingertips?

Click here or text FSD to (877) 281-7554 to receive text alerts from FoodService Director and get the news and insights that matter to your operation.


More from our partners