Texas Christian University's latest dining pop-up aims to push students out of their comfort zone

When designing the menu for pasta concept Al Moro, Executive Culinary Director Mike Smith didn’t want to mimic the offerings commonly found at Italian casual dining restaurants.
Al Moro pasta
Students can build their own pasta bowls using a variety of toppings at Al Moro. | Photos courtesy of Texas Christian University Dining Services

Students at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas have a chance to try some new pasta dishes on campus this semester thanks to Al Moro, a pop-up pasta concept that allows diners to create their own pasta bowls.  

The concept is the latest installment of the Sodexo dining team’s annual pop-up restaurant series which allows students to vote on what concept they would like to see.

“We've done everything from mac and cheese to sandwiches, baked potatoes, wraps, Mediterranean food,” says Director of Marketing Katelyn McPherson. “And then previously [last year we did] bento boxes and now pasta.”

Al Moro, which launched at the start of the semester and will continue through the fall, offers students a menu that differs from what they may have experienced while eating at a Italian casual dining restaurant.

Making the menu

The process of creating the pop-up begins with a student survey where students vote on which concept they would like to see.  Many of the winning concepts feature a build-your-own style of service due to its popularity with students.

“[Students] want to be able to select and modify certain menu options,” says Retail Manager Oralis Morales-Perea.

Once the theme is chosen, the team begins to work on menu development. In the case of Al Moro, Executive Culinary Director Mike Smith set out to create a menu that would push students out of their comfort zone and encourage them to try something new.

“I wanted to take things that were very understandable and very popular, but they weren't the kind of things that you'd see at Olive Garden,” he says.

The menu features under the radar sauces like aglio and olio (garlic and olive oil) and arrabiata (a spicy tomato sauce) served on top of a choice of cavatappi, bowtie pasta or Bonza chickpea penne.

Students can customize their pasta further with a variety of toppings including bell peppers, diced chicken, portabella mushrooms, red onion, mozzarella and more.

As the weeks go by, limited time offerings (LTOs) like carbonara sauce, shrimp and salmon will also make appearances on the menu to keep things fresh for students.

Al Moro"

A student poses with their build-your-own pasta bowl from Al Moro. 

Building the brand

Along with developing the menu, the team places a hard focus on the concept’s branding. Al Moro’s design was created by  student intern Irene Nacif who works with McPherson. The team landed on “a trendy kind of quirky design,” says McPherson, and Nacif did her research to bring that idea to life.

“She made this ginormous mood board with all these different restaurants and their menus and the vibe of the atmosphere, everything, the whole nine yards," says McPherson. “And then she did different texts that would flow with this theme.”

Marketing for the pop-up is a team effort between the dining team and the school’s Student Government Association (SGA). The dining team is able to reach younger students and their parents, while SGA is more in contact with the upperclassmen.

“[The partnership] works both ways in that we can kind of hit all of the different grade levels that are currently on campus,” says McPherson.

The concept has already been met extremely well by students says Director of Retail Rick Flores. As the pop-up continues into the fall semester, the team will continue to look for ways to keep both the menu and the concept at-large fresh and exciting for students.

“We've just got to make sure that we take in [what students are telling us] and add some LTOs and add some excitement to keep the program growing and then take it into the fall,” says Flores.



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