To serve part of campus during a $10 million renovation of a campus dining center, the dining department at Colorado State University knew it needed a temporary facility that was going to entice and satisfy students. After looking at several options, including food trucks and mobile kitchens, Deon Lategan, director of dining services, says the department decided to just build its own facility. By partnering with the campus students center, which also has a renovation on the horizon, the two departments were able to split the cost of construction and create T-Dex, a custom-built solution for campus.
Lategan says the department wanted to do something for the location that was whimsical and fun for the students, but he didn't make the decision to build dining's own facility lightly.
"We made a few road trips and went to go look at some modular units," Lategan says. "There are people in the marketplace that will customize the kitchen and a dining room for you. Those would meet our needs, but they were very expensive. Then we looked at building our own and discovered that was very expensive too."
Lategan discovered a solution when he realized that the campus student center was also looking at having to close its dining options during a renovation. So Lategan approached that department about partnering to build a facility that would meet both group's needs.
"That way if we share the cost [of building it] becomes a little more affordable," Lategan says. "At a previous job, I had installed an express location That thing really took off, so I said, 'what if we recreated that?' I sketched it up and we engaged an architect who came up with the exterior finishes. We designed it in two 16-foot-wide sections. A crane can lift up the two halves to move the location."
The location is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day. Lategan says one of the major reasons the department didn't go with a food truck for a temporary dining facility was the volume they expected to do out of the space.
"Right now our numbers are approaching 1,000 covers a day and we think that number will end up somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 a day," Lategan says. "It just wouldn't have been practical to do that kind of volume out of a food truck with a tiny little grill. It’s becomes a good late-night hang out for students."
Lategan says the name came from a student idea based on an express location that was in the now-closed dining hall.
"We had an express unit in Durrel, which is the name of the dining center that is closed, that students had nicknamed the Dex Express. So we started marketing it as Dex. When we asked the students for ideas for a name for this facility, a student came up with T-Dex since it is our temporary Dex Express. That gave us a concept, so we've been using dinosaurs in our marketing."
For the interior design, Lategan says the department wanted to create a hip atmosphere that would appeal to the students. He especially wanted to be cognizant of the fact that the campus morphs into something else at night.
"A large percentage of our business [at T-Dex] comes during late-night hours until 1 a.m. The facility is completed self-contained. We produce all of our ice there and do all food production there except for grab-and-go items."
Storage of grab-and-go items has been the facility's biggest challenge, according to Lategan. So the department has had to set up multiple deliveries of these items throughout the day.
"We have an a.m. and a p.m. delivery," Lategan says. "If it gets busier we can add more. We’ve had to secure freezer space in some neighboring units, and we purchased a golf cart with adequate cold-holding capacity so we can move things. We track the food as we move it to make sure we don’t expose food to the sanitation danger zone. You’ve got to be very selective of what you store at the facility. We can't just keep a whole case of everything."
There is also a limited selection of retail items, such as snacks and c-store items, available at T-Dex.
Lategan says he structured the hot options at the facility after the traditional Southern "meat and three."
"We call it a 'main and three,'" Lategan says. "A main would be the entrée, like pizza, a hot sandwich or a chef’s salad. Then you can get three sides with that. The sides could be a drink, fries, granola bar, etc. So for one meal swipe you get a main and three. Then we have a hungry one where you can get two mains and one side."
The name of the facility inspired marketing to center around T-Rex images, which can be seen in the logo for the location and on the chalkboard menu walls inside the unit.
Some design elements of the unit included the use of corrugated sheet metal and bright colors, which were part of trying to create a fun, casual space, according to Lategan. The location also features exposed plywood ceilings and corrugated sheet metal counters. Lategan adds that the department decided to reuse some of the exhaust hoods out of the facility that was closed, which allowed them to keep costs down.
Lategan commissioned this chandelier, which is made from a bicycle wheel and silverware.