A major renovation that turned an existing dining hall into a marketplace-style servery resulted in nearly $2 million in additional sales.
Constructed in 1973, Oregon State University's Arnold Center used a hollow-square design to provide cafeteria-style foodservice to 700 residents living in Finley and Bloss residence halls. That setup served Oregon State well for years, and the university even increased traffic at Arnold Center in 2002 with the opening of the 196-resident Halsell Hall.
With the opening of the International Learning Center in 2011, which could house 312 residents and employ 150 staff members, it became apparent that Arnold Center would need an upgrade to be able to accommodate the increased traffic that came with Oregon State's continued development. As a result, Arnold Center's servery, now called Arnold Bistro, was redesigned to create a space where international and domestic guests meet to share experiences in a place where global cuisine meets the Pacific Northwest, says Richard Turnbull, associate director, university housing and dining services.
"The International Living Center provides both living space and classroom space to help international students establish pathways to academic success at OSU. While the largest group of international students at OSU are from Asia, there is a substantial number of students from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern nations. In response to this diverse student population, our culinary team did a remarkable job of researching, developing and creating authentic flavors from around the world to help create a comfortable environment for all students regardless of nationality."
Turnbull and other Oregon State administrators assembled a project team including initial interior designers Nancy Kalter-Dills and Akiko K. Hrovat from EDG Interior Architecture + Design, Michael Shea and Andrew Burke with Soderstrom Architects Ltd.; and foodservice consultants Steve Marshall and Mark Walsh from The Marshall Associates.
Multiple planning sessions resulted in a marketplace-style servery with identifiable food stations. "The intent was to promote improved flow and to provide more flexibility for the operations team," says EDG's Hrovat. "In addition, the aesthetics of the interiors needed improvement, as well as updating the concepts to be more current, fresh and exciting. The lighting also had to be improved."
"The main challenge was keeping everything on budget, while also fully utilizing the funds allocated by the legislature for the project," Shea says. "The approach was to create a menu of choices on components and finishes, knowing full well that not all items on the menu would be achievable. Then a cost estimate was prepared for each item, after which the OSU staff prioritized the items on the menu. These were then bid to subcontractors to confirm the cost estimates."
The renovated servery features stations offering a variety of cuisines. The interior features an industrial-like ceiling that is partially open to expose the ductwork. "The quartz countertops were selected because of lower cost and because they are manufactured in North America," Shea says. "Hot and cold pans were successfully isolated from the countertops using flame-resistant fiber tape insulation. Ceilings used large-size acoustic tiles in a floating plane configuration to give interest to the space."
An accelerated project timeframe increased the level of difficulty. "We had to do demolition and construction in three months in order to complete the design after the spring term ended and before students returned in the fall and when the new international center opened," Turnbull says. "We also had a lot of training to do in a short period of time. We had to have the right staff in place and they had to be well trained so they would feel comfortable in new roles preparing, cooking and interacting with customers in the front of the house."
The planning paid off in the form of increased annual customer counts, which more than doubled to 300,000 from 145,000, according to Turnbull. And annual sales at Arnold Bistro increased to $7.3 million annually, up from $5.6 million. This also includes a $700,000 increase in cash sales. "As an auxiliary service, we needed to generate new revenue to help pay for the bonds that were sold to finance this project," Turnbull says. "We developed the operation to generate a significant increase in cash sales, which meant it had to appeal to staff and visitors as well as residence hall students."
Installing flexible foodservice equipment that would accommodate traditional American and international students' food preferences now and in the future was a priority. Each station's equipment package also allows for maximum staff efficiency and minimal space usage. Approximately 70 percent of production takes place at the stations.
Staff receive deliveries at the back dock and store food in one of three walk-in coolers designated for produce, dairy and meat; a freezer; and a dry storage area. Located in the back kitchen, a cold prep area contains sinks, slicers, mixers, worktables and a blast chiller. The kitchen also houses three steam-jacketed kettles for sauces, soups and stews; a tilting skillet for braising meats; two steamers for vegetables and rice; three combi ovens for baking and roasting; and a large rotary oven for baked goods. Staff bring food to the front-of-house stations and store it in refrigerators before eventually completing menu items during production.
"In order to provide greater circulation space for staff and customers, we didn't increase the overall amount of space, but rather removed the convenience store that had occupied the space and moved it into the new International Living Learning Center," Turnbull says.
In the front-of-house servery, customers have access to many cuisines. The pan-Asian station, Nori Grill, features dishes such as orange chicken, Korean BBQ, chicken teriyaki and noodle bowls. "We knew that sushi is very popular, and we had had various levels of success bringing in fresh sushi," Turnbull says. "We knew our culinary team could develop this concept, but it isn't our primary expertise. So, we partnered with a commercial company, Kikka Sushi, to develop and manage this station." Staff here work on refrigerated tables to prepare the sushi and present it in refrigerated sushi cases.
At the Grille, which features gourmet burgers, chicken, kosher hot dogs, poppers and other casual fare, staff use a four-burner range, conveyor bun toaster, broiler, griddle range with oven beneath and fryer/filter assembly. Heated shelves hold prepared products.
Global Fare, with comfort foods from around the world, includes a griddle range with an oven beneath, a range, ribbon grate range and broiler. Menu items here include Ethiopian beef stew, Caribbean lime chicken, grilled salmon and cucumber, Lebanese lemon chicken, Portuguese pork scaloppini, steamed jasmine rice and sweet-and-sour red cabbage.
The equipment package at Pizzeria, which serves up made-to-order pies and slices, contains a gas-fired hearth-style oven for pizzas and calzones.
The adjacent Delicatessen offers wraps and made-to-order sandwiches that staff make on worktables, two convection microwaves and a gas-fired display oven. A refrigerated display case holds ingredients at this station.
Also nearby is a station that displays self-serve breakfast items in cold and hot pans. The station also includes a waffle iron, cereal dispensers and conveyor toaster. Staff prepare made-to-order smoothies here, as well.
The salad/soup/dessert bar sits in the center of the servery and contains a large serving counter with soup wells, cold pans and shelving for dessert presentation.
In the servery production area and back of the house, all exhaust fans and hood systems were brought up to code. The areas were replumbed and rewired, as well. "All of the equipment is on quick disconnects," Turnbull says.
A nearby beverage bar runs the length of a wall and offers hot and cold drinks. The soda station sits within the confines of the servery area so that customers cannot help themselves to free soda refills. The centrally located, two-sided POS stations doubled the original number of POS stations.
Although this project was not LEED certified, all OSU campus projects, including the Arnold Center Dining remodel, must meet LEED Silver certification standards at minimum, Turnbull explains. "This project also incorporates an extensive recycling/composting center that encourages customers to separate food, recyclables and trash prior to returning their dishes to the dishroom."
In Phase II, which isn't yet scheduled, the seating area will be upgraded with a Northwest theme. Turnbull expects a garden atrium to be the highlight of the design. Seating will expand to 450 seats from 332 and include exterior seating with heaters and umbrellas. A variety of seating-style zones will allow meeting encounters among individuals, pairs and larger groups. In addition, designers will reorganize the auxiliary spaces such as the mail room, dining area and catering offices for more efficiency.