At the ribbon cutting ceremony for the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Draft & Table taproom, the theme of community was front and center. The university’s vice president of institutional support services delivered a speech about how many university groups were involved in bringing Draft & Table to life. It was a true team effort.
“There was a real acknowledgement of how many departments were involved and how widespread the support was for the project from the get-go. It was a nice chance to acknowledge that,” says architect and UNM School of Architecture professor Chris Beccone.
While the ribbon cutting marked the first day Draft & Table was officially open for service, the space got a preview a couple weeks earlier.
Learning through soft openings
Prior to opening to the public, the team decided to do a series of soft openings at Draft & Table.
“We wanted to debut the space to a lot of our key stakeholders on campus and the people that really helped us to get the initiative off the ground,” says Amanda Gerard, operations manager for UNM’s dining and foodservice department, “especially our departmental partners and our student advocates.”
The team decided to hold two soft openings to avoid overcrowding. Along with giving Draft & Table’s stakeholders a sneak peek of the final concept, the openings served as a way for staff “to get acquainted with the product and the service style,” Gerard says.
Those previews proved critical. Through that process, the team learned more about how to guide customers through the unique space of the taproom.
“Where we thought that it would be natural for our guests to come in and sit at the table, our vibrant taproom scene in Albuquerque has taught that person to go to the bar,” Gerard says. “Our guests have come in a little bit pretrained for a service style we hadn’t anticipated, so we’ve had to make it a bit more clear for them to go to the table.”
Now, an employee welcomes customers when they walk in the door and lets them know to grab a seat at a table.
Evolution of the menu
In the time since its opening, Draft & Table’s menu has already seen several changes.
“We really started the menu from a place of feedback from the campus community. But once we launched those items, we received more feedback, and especially from our student population on what we're missing,” Gerard says.
One of the first changes made to the menu was adding more dishes to share.
“Our students told us they really loved having shareables,” Gerard says. “So we added a really great order of nachos and we added a spinach and artichoke dip so that [students] could go there with their friends and have more shareables on the menu that they could enjoy with a group.”
Other menu items, such as an antipasto board, saw slight alterations.
“[The antipasto board] had a lot of marinated vegetables, olives, more of a traditional charcuterie,” Gerard says. “And our students told us, ‘You know, we really just liked the Italian meats and cheeses.’ So we altered that item to just be a deli board, and they really appreciated that.”
As of this spring, Draft & Table is in its third iteration of beer offerings. Gerard says the team plans on rotating the draft beers every couple of months to keep things fresh, while incorporating a wide spectrum of different craft brews.
“We do realize that that IPAs are still the most popular craft beer on the market. So we want to have a couple of options, but also at least have interesting options on our menu and things that are less represented,” she says.
The team also works with local brewers to buy beer in small batches to give them more flexibility in their offerings.
“Brewmasters, the ones who really embrace the work, they love doing seasonal or they love doing short runs and they love doing small batches,” Beccone says. “And so those things become a way of making the flavor spectrum broader and work with the rotational idea of the taps as well.”
A place for community events
Aside from its normal day-to-day operations, Draft & Table is also being used for campus and community events.
Already, the space has hosted a beer dinner at which the school partnered with a local brewery to showcase their specialty beer.
“Our culinary team paired up some bites to go with it, and we had a little educational walk through the culinary experience of both food and beer,” Gerard says.
Because it’s located across the street from the school’s performing arts building, Draft & Table is a popular spot to grab a drink and a bite to eat before or after a performance. To ensure the space is available to attendees, Draft & Table alters its hours depending on scheduled performances.
“We try to be open at least an hour prior to showtime and then an hour after showtime,” Gerard says.
Draft & Table also allows the school to provide additional educational opportunities. Earlier this spring, Gerard and Chartwells' resident district manager gave a lecture on the history of beer around the world, and students got a tour of Draft & Table afterwards. The space also plays host to the Provost Lightning Lounge, which Gerard describes as “a TED Talk-style event where faculty members give seven-minute talks about their current research.”
Learning from others
Both Gerard and Beccone agree that one of their favorite parts of working on Draft & Table has been interacting with so many different groups on campus. They say they would want to do the same when working on future renovations.
“It was an eye-opening experience to understand how much we could learn when we involved stakeholders from our campus community, to give us feedback and to help us understand maybe things that we didn't see from our lens,” Gerard says. “Broadening that perspective has really assisted us in being proactive in addressing any issues or concerns of the community and then also integrating all the skill sets that we have here on campus.”
For Beccone, seeing something his students created on paper come to life was also gratifying.
“Coming from the architecture school, to have something evolve from an on-paper project, which is where the majority of student projects live in school, into a real-world project that's literally 1,000 feet away from the School of Architecture and becomes an amenity for those students, as well as the larger campus community, was clarifying,” he says. He adds that creating a space designed to encourage community interaction should be the primary reason for those looking to create a bar on campus.
“That, to me, would be one of the things that I would emphasize,” Beccone says. “To give them a place that’s really for the whole campus community.”