Cornerstone Restaurant Group, which operates Michael Jordan’s Steak House, Urbanbelly and a number of other restaurants out of Chicago, is opening five concepts in the Purdue Memorial Union, located on the university’s West Lafayette, Ind., campus.
CRG is partnering with Aramark, Purdue’s foodservice provider, to build out and operate the chef-curated kiosks in the historic student union, which is currently being remodeled.
“Pre-pandemic, Aramark put out a call for an RFP and we submitted one, detailing the five concepts we had in mind,” said Danny McGowan, COO of Cornerstone. “Aramark visited our kiosks at Time Out Market in Chicago, were excited about our ideas and we won the bid.”
Chef Bill Kim, a partner in CRG, is recreating his Asian fast casual, Urbanbelly, as one of the five, serving up dumplings and bowls. Chef Bill Kim’s Ramen Bar will also have a kiosk, as will Chef Bill Kim’s Pizza & Parm Shop, a ghost kitchen that launched during the pandemic and specializes in Detroit-style pizza and chicken Parmesan sandwiches.
Rounding out the CRG collection is a Latin concept from John Manion, another top Chicago chef, and SolToro, a taco bar based on the Mexican cantina of the same name.
Bringing chef-curated food to people where they are is CRG’s mission with the Purdue project, said McGowan.
Cornerstone was no stranger to Purdue. Several years ago, the company worked with one of the university’s hospitality professors to create an Urbanbelly pop-up as a class project. “The students ran it and marketed it on social media for a semester,” said McGowan. That was kind of a test run and proved the workability of the concept.
The restaurant group also incorporated lessons learned from its Time Out Market experience. “Five menu items is optimal for this type of kiosk,” said McGowan. “Serve what you do the best.” All the food will be prepared at a central kitchen.
With the current challenges the industry is facing, he is especially enthusiastic about having Aramark as a business partner. “It would be difficult to set up the infrastructure and bite off this commitment, both financially and emotionally, without a partner,” said McGowan.
In the simplest terms, the partnership is a licensing deal. Aramark—not Purdue—will operate the kiosks, paying Cornerstone a licensing fee for its brands, plus a percentage.
The buildout is scheduled to be completed by January 2022.
McGowan would like to do more projects with Aramark. “It keeps us young to have 18 to 22-year-olds as customers and see what they’re eating,” he said. “And it’s pretty cool to come full circle with Purdue students, starting with the pre-COVID Urbanbelly popup and now coming alive with five concepts.”
Denver-based fast casual Modern Market Eatery recently opened its first college outpost at another large Indiana campus—the University of Notre Dame in South Bend—also with the goal of targeting this demographic. “It’s fantastic exposure for the brand to get into the hands of college students, who can become loyal fans going forward,” CEO Rob McColgan told FSD.