A mammoth food hall built on big thinking

fsu chef

Florida State University set out to create a new dining location that would be unique to its campus—and it ended up with a four-restaurant food hall concept that’s unlike most at any college campus.

Take the building alone: 1851 is a massive space, clocking in at 24,000 square feet. Then there’s the micro-restaurant setup, featuring four different cuisines for diners to choose from. After hours, hungry diners can hit The Canteen, an on-site convenience store that offers not only grab-and-go foods but also a rotating set of pop-up bars. And in another twist, the hall’s 450 seats are open to both students and the public.

“1851 was definitely an ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’ situation,” says Charles Friedrich, FSU’s office of business services director, laughing. “A project like this doesn’t just come together overnight.”

The planning for 1851, which finally opened at the start of the 2017-18 school year, took three and a half years and involved close collaboration between several FSU teams, from operations to facilities and culinary. The groups worked with one core question in mind: What makes our school different, or “FSUnique”?

The team coupled that thinking with research on current dining trends: local ingredients, food halls with smaller specialized menus, pop-up bars and scratch-made dishes. So, from the start of the 1851 project, FSU decided to eschew national brands in favor of fresh, campus-specific offerings.

Putting their own stamp on satisfaction

jstreet grill

Ultimately, the team settled on four restaurants to fill out a hall-style interior: JStreet Grill, Tuscan Eatery, the international concept Passports and comfort food-focused Noles Homecoming, plus The Canteen convenience store. The idea was big and exciting—but it also meant Florida State's Seminole Dining team was charged with creating not one, but five new menus.

“We realized we had a real platform here to do something different, and that couldn’t be achieved by repurposing existing menus,” says Travis Johnson, executive chef of food services. “We needed dynamic, unique flavors, and that meant going item by item.”

They began with JStreet Grill, “where we knew we had to have the best burger in town to draw people in,” Johnson says. The team listed potential burger options on several whiteboards and got to work testing them all. Johnson estimates they experimented with 20 different blends of meat for the burger and at least a half-dozen brioche bun recipes before finalizing the signature JStreet Burger: a half-pound patty topped with a beer-and-five-cheese blend, applewood-smoked bacon, onion straws and arugula.

“I recently ran into someone who said the JStreet Burger is the best they’ve ever eaten,” Johnson says. “That’s our goal: not [merely] good for a college campus, but great food, period. And for that, you’ve got to start from scratch.”

The team repeated the process of recipe testing for each menu item and 1851 concept: loaded fries and hand-spun milkshakes at JStreet, pho broth at Passports, sauces for the specialty pizzas at Tuscan Eatery and custom breakfast sandwiches at Noles Homecoming.

“We spent weeks with more than a dozen chefs, doing things over and over and over again,” says Jay DeGioia, district manager of Florida State's Seminole Dining. “It’s time-consuming but worth every minute. There’s no other way to do it if you’re committed to culinary excellence.”
 

A recipe for long-term success

food hall

Diners are responding to that commitment, and the uniqueness of 1851 (named for the year of FSU’s founding). While the hall is still in its early days and sales can vary, DeGioia says the location enjoys a “strong steady flow of traffic throughout the day and a busy evening time.” That’s in part because The Canteen stays open until midnight, later than the restaurants’ 10 p.m. closing.

The team also credits 1851’s eclectic menus, particularly their appeal to more than just students. Meals like a grouper dinner might not be the choice of the average FSU freshman, but those options draw in members of the faculty and public. The success of 1851 comes without cannibalizing sales at other FSU dining locations.

DeGioia recommends the food hall setup to any operator with the space and the willingness to commit. He says the concept is attractive not only to varied diner tastes, but also to operations; it’s relatively easy to swap out micro-restaurants as students’ tastes and trends change, compared to signing long-term expensive contracts with national chains.

“The flexibility to jump on trends is outstanding,” DeGioia says. “But true success comes down to what makes your target market, and your location, unique. If you take the time to harness that and execute on it, your diners will respond.”

Meet the FSD: Jay Degioia

Jay Degioia

Foodservice District Manager, Florida State University

Q: What are your goals for the coming year?
A: We have an enormous amount of remodeling coming up—one of our historic dining halls is about to get completely redone—and 1851 is going to have an impact on all of it. We want to make a similar impact in all of the places we’re going to redo; we want them all to be “FSUnique and special for the students. We’re so happy to have this success with 1851, and it’s become the inspiration for and embodiment of what we want to achieve campuswide.

Q: What makes your team great?
A: It’s a diverse set of points of view, in part because we focused on hiring people with restaurant backgrounds for 1851 in particular. We’ve charged our team with a lot: thinking outside the box.


At a Glance: Florida State University

Tallahassee, Fla.

  • Size of the food hall in square feet: 24,000
  • Number of seats: 450
  • Number of micro-restaurants within 1851: 4
  • Added The Canteen, an on-site convenience store featuring grab-and-go foods, a coffee bar and pop-up bars (such as make-your-own baked potatoes or nachos).
  • Tested 20 meat blends when coming up with the signature JStreet Burger.
  • Built partnerships with the community, including farmers, to enhance 1851’s local offerings.

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