College and University Foodservice Innovators: Virginia Tech

New Burger '37 Joins Long Line of Destination Dining Concepts

 

Students dining at Virginia Tech’s Burger ’37 can customize their orders with toppings that range from fresh arugula, mesclun and sliced avocados to banana peppers, pesto and roasted red peppers.Virginia Tech (VT) has long been on the forefront of campus foodservice, from embracing Marché-style dining back in 1999, to introducing a new 35,000-square-foot, $35 million state-of-the art dining facility at Turner Place at Lavery Hall just 2 years ago. At Turner Place students enjoy 8 separate on-trend restaurants including Origami, a full-service Japanese steakhouse with 10-person grill-top tables and sushi bar; Atomic Pizzeria, featuring wood-fired pizzas, salads and pasta entrées; and 1872 Fire Grill, a high-end grill venue that includes a large carving station, display rotisserie "wall of flame," and wood-fired char grill.

Another 12 concepts, from smoothies and frozen yogurt to specialty coffee, sandwiches, Mexican, Asian, local and organic specialties, salads and soups, reside in a popular food court at Owens Hall. That center also houses Hokie Grill & Co., which over the years has evolved from a solo custom-branded concept offering grilled sandwiches, a salad and fruit bar, and baked goods, to incorporating franchised brands including Chick-fil-A, Pizza Hut, Blue Ridge Barbecue, Carvel Ice Cream and Dunkin' Donuts.

And that's just a small sampling of what's on the campus menu. Suffice it to say, Virginia Tech students have it good — really good — when it comes to the quality and variety of options their dining plans cover. And they can take part of the credit: It's a program that relies heavily on student input to create distinctive destination dining concepts and to keep up with the hottest off-campus trends.

Nowhere proves that more true than the school's newest foodservice concept, Burger '37. It's a self-branded better burger restaurant that rivals the segment's kingpins in the commercial fast-casual arena. Since opening in late March, Burger '37 has quickly settled in as a beloved addition to the campus dining scene, serving an average of 1,100 customers per day between 10:30 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Located in the Squires Student Center, Burger '37 — the name ties to the year (1937) the center was built — shares food court space with one other concept, Au Bon Pain. It fronts a central area that seats roughly 330, with additional seating on an outdoor patio. The relatively small footprint includes a 20-foot front counter and an open back kitchen equipped with flattop griddles, fryers, reach-in refrigeration units and a shake station. Conversion of the space, which had been a Sbarro unit for the prior 8 years, cost approximately $450,000.

The concept itself, like all of the self-branded venues on the VT campus, features a distinctive design. Were there already burgers and fries available on campus? Sure. But Burger '37 takes a fresh approach that really makes them sizzle.

"We didn't want to do anything similar to what was already available in other venues on campus," says Ted Faulkner, director of dining services for Virginia Tech. "We visited a lot of the most popular better-burger leaders in the Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia market that we felt had the profile of what we were looking for, including Shake Shack and Bobby's Burger Palace. So we took a little bit from multiple concepts and combined those ideas with our own."

That research led to an inviting, contemporary operation that puts a next-gen spin on the beloved triumvirate of burgers, fries and shakes.

Burger '37 uses fresh ground beef, hand-formed into 6-ounce patties and flattened on a griddle heated to 425 degrees F, which quickly sears in the juices and produces a caramelized crust. Students can choose from a variety of burgers, ranging in price from $4.50 to $6.50. The burgers range from plain and simple — a few always ready for grab-and-go service — to signature made-to-order versions with toppings such as cheddar, bacon and fried egg; mushroom and Swiss; pepper Jack, salsa and avocado; and blue cheese and fried onions with steak sauce. Students can also customize their burgers with toppings such as fresh arugula, mesclun, sliced avocados, banana peppers, pesto and roasted red peppers. The menu also includes house-made gluten-free veggie burgers (made with beans and rice) and freshly ground turkey burgers, each prepared on a dedicated griddle top to avoid cross-contamination.

Soft potato rolls — the standard bun at Burger '37 — are unlike anything else available on campus and were selected after extensive taste-testing with students, Faulkner notes. The fries are hand-cut, brined overnight and air dried before frying. Staff spin the diner-style shakes to order using hand-dipped premium vanilla bean ice cream.

"For the shakes, we developed a clear cup with the Burger '37 logo on it," Faulkner says. "The ice cream is measured and weighed out for each shake and hand-dipped into the cup, then the milk and other ingredients are added and it's blended right in the cup. This way, we eliminate waste or overruns. And because the shakes are really thick, we specified a jumbo straw so they're easier to drink. It's a simple thing, but it came from student input, and it makes a difference."

Designed for fast, efficient throughput, Burger '37 touts service times of two to four minutes from order placement to receipt. "About the time a burger is ready to come off the grill, it's already been ordered — we've had a line ever since we opened, so we're not waiting for orders before putting the raw patties on. Once it's ordered, the counter staff assembles it with the student's choice of toppings right in front of them, bags it with their fries (if ordered), and they move along the counter to the shake station or collect a cup for the self-serve beverage station and move on to pay at the cashier station, which is double-sided to keep the line moving quickly."

A self-service station holds the condiments, which go well beyond standard ketchup, mustard and mayo. Each day, students can choose from unique flavor-infused ketchup and mayo varieties, including versions like spicy citrus coconut mayo, mango habanero mayo, Szechuan ginger ketchup and jalapeno-cilantro ketchup.

As a retail outlet in the student union, Burger '37 accepts cash, credit and debit cards, as well as dining plan dollars. Students on the dining plan receive a 50 percent discount off the retail prices, a deal that's standard at all à la carte and retail operations on campus.

"We've been very pleased with response so far," says Faulkner, who chalks part of Burger '37's success up to student input that help to shape its menu and make it unique in each category. Faulkner says. "You know, it's not just a burger place. It's a burger, fries and shake place and a significant percentage of orders are for all three. That has a lot to do with responding creatively to what students said they wanted."

 


For a complete list of our 2014 College and University Foodservice Innovators click here

 

Snapshot

  • No. of students: 31,000 full-time (24,000 undergrad; 9,300 living on campus)
  • Operation: Self-operated
  • Dining plan participation: Approximately 18,500 plan holders with debit-style plans that can be used in any of the dining centers
  • Locations: 8 dining centers
  • Dining center transactions: 37,000 to 42,000 per week; 7.1 million per year
  • Revenue: $55.8 million
  • Employees: 2,100, including 330 full-time salaried, 1,350 student wage, 420 general wage

 

Key Players

  • Ted Faulkner, director of dining services
  • Brian Grove, associate director of dining services
  • Bill Hess, associate director of dining services
  • Luther Moseley, assistant director of dining services – Burger '37
  • Rial Tombes, sustainability coordinator
  • Craig Gelbert, associate director for planning and business services
  • Jennifer Lindsey, administrative dietician
  • Jessica Filip, training and project manager
  • Virginia Tech renovation and project management: Mason Montgomery, Jeff Zoller
  • Colley Architects: Tim Colley, Jeffrey Wiseman
  • Thor Construction: John Younger
  • Foodservice Equipment Dealer: Douglas Equipment

 

 

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