When the State Board of Regents approved the University of Georgia’s Athens location for a new Health Sciences campus, the food services department was faced with a challenge: how to create a foodservice unit in that location that would be financially viable.
“Health Sciences is two miles away from the main campus, and is a small campus,” notes Michael Floyd, associate vice president for auxiliary services, pointing out that Brown Residence Hall, designed to serve this campus, houses only 200 students.
The trick, he realized, would be to limit hours of operation as much as possible and to try to attract customers from the main campus. His team has managed to do both by opening The Niche, an all-you-can-eat dining hall in Scott Hall that has the look and feel of a café or bistro.
“I would estimate that 75% of our clientele come from off this campus, either by car or by bus,” says Manager Gregg Hudson.
The Niche has four main stations: The Hearth, which features a brick oven; The Grill; The Deli; and The Market. The Niche is open only for breakfast and lunch.
The Niche has been attracting students in droves from the main campus by offering a cozier dining atmosphere—The Niche has only about 60 seats—and some unique menu items like a carrot and cashew nut coleslaw and a root vegetable shepherd’s pie. Also, Deli customers can customize their sandwiches by using a kiosk ordering system—not found in any other dining hall—that allows them to sit and visit with friends while their sandwiches are prepared. It also helps that architects designed the building with a roundabout that allows university buses to pull right up to the door.
But the big draw, Floyd believes, is the gelato stand.
“This is the only place at the university where we sell gelato, and the word has gotten out,” Floyd says. While not exactly Baskin-Robbins—the menu features 30 varieties of gelato and sorbet on a rotating basis—it offers some interesting flavors, such as Blood Orange Sorbet, Heath Caramel Hazelnut Gelato and Orange Carrot Lemon Sorbet.
And it’s all you can eat.