International cuisine caters to students’ sophisticated and cultured palates at the University of Southern California.
Fertitta Café is impressive nonetheless. The site serves as a prime eating and connecting space within Jill and Frank Fertitta Hall, conveniently located on the lobby level near the main entrance. The multifunctional area encourages guests to eat lunch or enjoy early-evening meals, as well as to engage between classes and after hours.Albeit a small piece of the latest $82.5 million building addition at the University of Southern California (USC),
“When you walk into the building, you feel like you’re walking into the lobby of a five-star hotel,” says Kris Klinger, USC’s assistant vice president of retail operations. A large media wall greets guests in a common area. The cafe sits behind.
“This self-developed cafe concept’s business objectives were to provide the Marshall [School of Business] community with authentic Asian-inspired cuisine, which was not offered on campus,” Klinger says. “We worked with the Marshall School of Business and agreed that an Asian theme would cater to our school’s diverse demographic. We wanted to offer a wide variety of items to avoid food fatigue and be able to serve high volume quickly and efficiently without compromising quality and taste.”
A 12-seat sushi bar anchors the space. Visible from the lobby, it expands the area for networking and dining. Bold colors with red and black accents on an all-white palette, as well as artistic signage, add to the inviting ambiance.
Cashiers’ shirts feature the original artwork used to design the station, which contributes to the design’s continuity. Additional open seating features four-top tables and benches around the perimeter. Outside in the courtyard, guests sit at long benches and at tables. This courtyard connects Fertitta Hall to Popovich Hall.
In keeping with USC Hospitality’s food philosophy, carefully developed menus embrace specific experience principles that guide creation, sourcing and execution in USC
Hospitality venues. The menu consists of pho, ramen, banh mi, dumplings, shumai and other Asian favorites, as well as rolls handcrafted by sushi chefs. Also in keeping with the philosophy, the chef-driven cafe menu features locally and globally sourced fresh and seasonal ingredients.
Fertitta Café’s receiving entrance sits at the south side of the building. Team members receive proteins, vegetables, broths and other menu items that are prepped and cooked at the campus’s Ronald Tutor Campus Center production kitchen.
“While the business school administrators wanted delicious and craveable food to be served in the cafe, they did not want the associated smells wafting through the main lobby of the building and meeting people at the door,” Klinger says. “This required us to be creative with the equipment selection, the menu and type of service.” For example, the cafe team set up additional production in the commissary, and the cafe was built with discrete hoods for cooking. A very robust exhaust system extracts fumes and food smells.
After receiving menu items prepared in the production kitchen, the team places the food in a walk-in cooler. Dry storage sits on the opposite end of the L-shaped kitchen. Prep tables support the culinary team as they complete the remaining prep work. They rethermalize proteins and
starches in a combi oven and heat stocks on an induction burner. They deliver the components to the appropriate front-of-the-house stations to build guests’ orders.
Team members complete menu item preparation in an area with worktables, prep sinks, a vertical cutter/mixer and a food slicer. Across an aisle in this area sit a can opener, salad dryer, prep sink, rice cooker and reach-in freezer.
A dishwashing area contains tables for clean and soiled wares, a sink with a prerinse faucet and a high-temp warewasher for pots and pans and other utensils. The facility uses disposable and mostly compostable plates and serviceware. Only the sushi containers and bowls are noncompostable.
Several entry points from the back of the house to the exhibition area make it easy for the culinary team to transfer products to the front of the house. Five separate stations sit side by side in an ark-shaped line with stone-top counters so guests can watch team members assemble their dishes. Each station offers a delectable variety of cuisine from all over the Asian continent. “The culinary team has proudly engineered restaurant quality, authentic foods found internationally and in Los Angeles neighborhoods,” Klinger says.
The first of the six stations, Bowls, features a variety of noodle dishes, including tonkotsu ramen, spicy tonkotsu ramen, roasted veggie miso and chicken pho. Customers can also make their own bowls with selections of starch, soup or rice, veggies, protein and toppings. Bain-maries and drop-in hot wells hold these ingredients.
A pasta cooker flash cooks each pasta portion in one minute so it can always remain fresh, while a rice warmer holds this ingredient until necessary for menu assembly. A cold reach-in holds prepped veggies and sauces for the noodle bowl station.
At Salads, guests can order Chinese chicken salad, Thai beef crunchy salad, miso-glazed salmon salad and Vietnamese noodle salad. This area contains refrigerated pan rails, undercounter refrigerators, a refrigerated self-service case and a wall-mounted shelf displaying prepped salad bowls.
At Dumplings, the signature dish is cooked in a combi oven, then held in bamboo baskets on the custom-made steamer. The exhaust system includes a vapor hood. The menu here features mini bao and potstickers/shumai with dipping sauce. Other equipment supporting display include a bain-marie, a drawer-type warmer, refrigerated pan rails and a refrigerated rail.
At the adjacent stations, Banh Mi offers braised pork belly, lemongrass chicken, Korean spiced pork and shitake mushrooms.
Bao offers steamed buns filled with lemongrass chicken, tender pork belly, Korean spiced pork and shitake mushrooms. Both stations feature refrigerated bases and drop-in hot wells.
A great deal of guests’ attention focuses on the bar at the sushi station, where chefs prepare rolls including the Trojan (the USC mascot) and another named after the dean of the Marshall School of Business. To keep customer traffic flowing, a grab-and-go sushi area sits on the other side so guests can help themselves to sushi from the refrigerated self-service areas.
A beverage station sits nearby where guests can easily fill cups with everything from soda to sparkling water.
A grab-and-go area features a refrigerated reach-in self-service case. Guests also find a variety of Asian snack foods, such as wasabi chips and Pocky sticks. USC Hospitality partnered with local Phoenix Bakery to bring fresh desserts to the cafe. A reach-in case next to the register in the sushi station displays the dessert items.
The entire service area contains one entrance and one exit. Point-of-sale equipment sits near the exit to easily track guest transactions.
A separate station facilitates mobile ordering by phone. Guests pick up their food and leave quickly without becoming tangled with those waiting in line at the stations.
“When we first started talking about a dedicated Asian concept, we wondered if this would be the right concept for us,” Klinger says. “We also asked if this concept would be relevant in 5 years or 10 years.”
During its first few months in operation, Fertitta Café and its authentic, fresh, seasonal menu offerings drew rave reviews. As for long-term relevance, the USC Hospitality is confident it made the right decision.