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Durrell Dining Center and Durrell Express at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Customization brings new flavors and menu variety to the food-concept platforms at this all-you-care-to-eat marketplace.

Durrell SaladBarThe central venue of the dining room at the salad platform serves as the initial wow factor when visitors enter the space.Just a few years ago, it was clear that the 60-year-old dining facility on the northwest side of the Colorado State University (CSU) campus had seen better days. “Considering the building’s age and outdated style of service, we felt it was fiscally responsible to update the facility with state-of-the-art equipment and numerous interactive culinary stations,” says Deon Lategan, director of residential dining services. “Since many of the students living here and throughout campus are from countries outside the U.S., this renovation opened up an opportunity for creating a specialized venue that could showcase foods from around the globe.”

During the extensive renovation, Durrell closed for 16 months, and a temporary quick-service retail outlet called Temporary Durrell Express (T-DEX) served as the sole dining facility for this part of the campus. The new Durrell now serves as the central dining destination for two nearby residence hall towers. In 2014 construction of the Laurel Academic Village will be complete and will add 600 beds to this part of campus so students will have not only new housing options, but a new, contemporary dining facility as well.

Inside the building, which is under review for LEED Gold certification, the lower level serves as programming and flexible space for Residence Life activities and summer conferences. It includes multifunctional meeting rooms, quiet study nooks and lounge/game areas for students. This level also houses CSU’s office for GUIDE (Gaining Understanding through Involvement, Diversity and Education), which contributes to the connection between the international student and faculty population. Guests enter the dining center on the first floor through a grand staircase.

Durrell represents the sixth major renovation for Housing and Dining Services on CSU’s campus in the past five years, executed as part of a multiyear strategic plan. Foodservice-related renovations include Corbett, Rams Horn, Braiden, bakeshop relocation and expansion with a gluten-free area, Dining Services warehouse relocation and expansion, and, now Durrell. These new dining initiatives resulted from consolidation of nine dining programs. “This multiyear consolidation of operations has allowed labor efficiencies allowing [a] wider variety of menu options and flexibility,” says Lategan. “We shifted the savings gained to offer extended hours with weekly special-themed dining events. Most importantly, this gave us the opportunity to enhance the center-of-the-plate offerings, which resulted in greater satisfaction and participation by on- and off-campus students.”

Form Follows Function

With a desire to create a fresh and energetic space for students to socialize, dine and unwind, the Durrell project team mixed elements of urban design with a fine dining atmosphere. “Working within the existing shell of the building to capture multiple functions, there were many challenges, such as low concrete slab ceilings, stone-clad niches on the exterior window walls, working within the requirements of striving for LEED Gold certification and, finally, designing a place that offered a completely unique experience on campus,” says Michelle Maestas, project designer at Ricca Newmark Design.

“At Durrell Center, the original entry was so downplayed it was hard to figure out how to get inside the building,” says Sage Case, LEED AP, the interior designer for 4240 Architecture, the architect of record for the renovation of the architectural shell and the lower level. “Once inside, visitors were met by disorienting circulation, awkwardly proportioned spaces that had old, thick drapery preventing any real connection to the outside, let alone daylight. Spaces were either too big, too small or so specific to one task that they were hardly used and definitely not coveted.”

Through the renovation, the project’s architect, Andy McRae of 4240 Architecture, embraced the beauty of the existing building by exposing the exterior concrete waffle slab within the interior, working to dissolve the interior walls and compartmentalization of areas and creating multifunctional spaces. “His design orients the occupant by framing the amazing views of the Colorado foothills and connecting them to the site all around,” Case says. “Strategically placing spaces with activity along the outer edges of the building gives passersby a chance to see that energy and want to take part in it.”

The revamped and streamlined main entrance improved exterior access and enhanced the student experience by creating a single welcoming entry point at the ground level on the north side of the building. “The addition of solar tubes at the grand staircase brings daylight further into the building and helps reduce the amount of artificial lighting needed throughout the day,” Case adds. “The vibrant, youthful interior design coupled with the multiple functionality of the spaces ensures that these spaces will not be left forgotten and unused.”

Global Marketplace

When visitors enter the upper level via the grand entry staircase, they see an interactive marketplace, where a traditional campus dining hall previously resided. “The old servery had straight serving counters, and the main dining area was very dark because there were very few windows visible in these locations,” says Lona Homersham, project director for Ricca Newmark Design. “The existing building structure and limited budget presented challenges as we decided how to give this facility its own identity and feature venues that were different from those in other operations on campus.”

The dining operation includes the 6,400-square-foot marketplace, 6,125-square-foot dining area with 426 seats and a 2,300-square-foot late-night retail outlet, Durrell Express (DX). In creating the marketplace, the design team wanted to emulate a high-end commercial restaurant experience that features fresh, made-to-order dishes created with regional ingredients and authentic ethnic flavors. The food platforms contain maximum flexibility so that, as customers’ food tastes evolve, culinary staff can change cooking processes without needing significant renovation. As a result, culinary staff have the option to prepare smaller portions with regional ingredients and authentic ethnic flavors from around the globe.

One of the marketplace’s central attractions is a freestanding platform with a cluster of four venue concepts: salad, deli, soup and desserts. At the salad bar, customers can build their own salad or choose from premade selections du jour. A two-tiered speed rail displays bottles of various dressings, while a custom-made “salad Susan” chills up to four different types of lettuce. The countertop’s design integrates both the salad Susan and the speed rail. “With the large number of people coming through the dining center, here and at other platforms, we offer menu items that can be customized and made to order, in addition to self-service options, in order to achieve the needed speed of service students on the go want,” Lategan explains.

At the deli, customers choose from preprepared sandwiches or select ingredients held in refrigerated cold pans that staff use to make sandwiches on cutting boards in patrons’ view. Upon request, staff warm or toast sandwiches in rapid-cook ovens, which a sculpted glass panel conceals from the patrons’ view. A freestanding bread case, finished and fit to the precise angles of the serving counters so it appears to be built in, displays and holds freshly baked breads to accompany three homemade soups displayed in hot wells daily.

The adjacent dessert bar features a countertop glass display case offering sweet treats. Using a soft-serve machine, customers also can dispense frozen yogurt into cones or bowls and add toppings from dispensers.

Equipment in the middle of the platform includes roll-in refrigerators containing back-up ingredients for the salad and deli areas. “The refrigerators are concealed behind freestanding walls finished in elegant glass tile, making them virtually disappear,” says Maestas.

The international and pizza platform features entrées and sides from regions of the U.S. and around the world. Global menu items include Korean bulgogi, Japanese ramen, and South African bobotie and peri-peri shrimp presented in hot food wells and drop-in chafing dishes. “Customers can customize many dishes,” says Peter Testory, assistant director and executive chef. “There is also a carving station at the central counter where staff serve carved roasts such as flank steak, skirt steak, turkey breast and ham. We do as much display cooking with these items as we can. Throughout the dinner service we grill steaks rather than put them in a warming unit.”

Two adjacent stations also feature pizza: design-your-own pies and ready-to-go slices. At the made-to-order station, guests choose their sauces and toppings, and staff bake hand-tossed thin-crust pies in a three-tier deck oven. Staff use a restaurant-style paging system to alert guests when their orders are ready. Throughout the meal periods, guests can help themselves to slices of premade pizzas also baked in the three-tier deck oven. In addition to the pies, the oven bakes garlic rolls, Chinese baos, calzones, cinnamon straws and pizza rolls.

In the center of the station, supporting the international and pizza concepts, staff use a mobile table, a fryer assembly with filter and dump station, a two-burner range, refrigerated drawers, a griddle, a charbroiler with a standard oven, a combi oven, a pizza cut table, a heated deck, slides for sheet pans, an undercounter refrigerator, a refrigerated base with pans, a pan rack and a roll-in refrigerator.

More Stations: Noodle and Pasta Sauté, Gluten-Free, Grill and Breakfast

At the noodle and pasta sauté platform, “the cooking process is put on stage and celebrates the interaction of the culinary staff and students,” Maestas says. Guests choose ingredients, including grains, vegetables, protein and sauces, and hand them to a culinary staff member who sautés their orders on a 12-burner step-up gas range with refrigerated drawers beneath.

For preprepared or customized pasta dishes, culinary staff use such equipment as woks, rice warmers, a butcher block prep table, double convection oven, heated cabinet and reach-in refrigerator. “To my surprise, this station is one of the busier stations in the dining area,” Testory says. “What’s special for me is watching the interaction between the staff and guests. The staff really get into being able to interact with their guests.”

At the adjacent gluten-free zone, customers find daily plated specials wrapped and ready to heat in the dedicated gluten-free pop-up toaster, microwave, and countertop warmer. A countertop refrigerator holds ingredients. “Staff prepare items for this station in the back of the house, plate them up separately and cool them in the blast chiller,” says Testory. “Generally these entrées and sandwiches are off our regular cycle menu.” In addition, staff make available pizzas with gluten-free crusts so customers can take them out and heat them in a toaster oven dedicated to these menu items to ensure there is no cross-contact.

The grill and breakfast platform performs various functions. Staff serve breakfast here until 11 a.m. and then switch to lunch items. “Though the original concept was breakfast all day long, we felt the customer base coming to this facility during lunch would be looking for more traditional lunch items,” Testory says. This platform supports the retail grab-and-go outlet, Durrell Express (DX), which operates from 2 p.m. until 1 a.m.

In the central work island of this platform, staff prepare breakfast items such as pancakes, French toast and egg dishes on a griddle. Staff use a charbroiler with refrigerated drawers beneath to make burgers, chicken for sandwiches, popcorn chicken, and two kinds of chicken patties. A fryer sizzles potatoes for fries, and infrared food warmers keep food warm until it is served. A frost-top at the end of the serving line presents cold sandwiches and wraps. This area also holds heated cabinets, heated decks, warming drawers, and drop-in chafing dishes.

Adjacent to this platform sits a freestanding condiment counter where students place batter in a reusable cup so they can measure the appropriate amount necessary to use a waffle iron that makes waffles with a logo of CSU’s mascot, a ram’s head, in the middle.

Also within the marketplace, two beverage stations offer a variety of cold and hot drinks and purified water. Soda dispensers contain ice nuggets made by a remote ice maker situated in back-of-house storage area in order to keep the heat and noise out of the servery.

In addition, the cereal bar offers 12 varieties of cereals held in dispensers with troughs beneath to catch cereal that doesn’t make it into bowls, which keeps the countertop cleaner throughout the meal period.