New Unit Helps Special Students, Food Truck Boosts Sales
As part of a rapidly growing campus, Texas Tech Hospitality remains in a continual state of expansion. To help serve an enrollment of 35,000, the Hospitality Services department operates 21 foodservice locations across campus with more than 50 dining options.
One project that required especially careful consideration involved finding a foodservice partner for the university's Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research. Due to the nature of the research and the sensitive needs of its clientele, the department sought to introduce a concept here that would serve the foodservice needs of the faculty and staff and that would also lend itself to hiring students who are Burkhart Center clients.
The choice was Quiznos, which opened in January 2015. The $750,000 investment in construction and equipment resulted in a 1,562-square-foot operation that's open from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"This concept is unique to our campus because we are adapting our training to students' learning needs in the workplace with the assistance of the Burkhart Center staff," says Kirk Rodriguez, managing director of Texas Tech Hospitality Services. "The students with autism are taught real-life work skills, such as food safety, proper food handling, cashier training, customer service and general job skills in order to ready them to graduate and go out into the world on their own."
In order to fit within the space allotted for a foodservice operation, Quiznos developed a smaller-than-normal footprint for this retail outlet. "The ordering and service line is designed to allow guests to go through the line quickly but still allow for product customization," Rodriguez says. "This allows them to see food prepared in front of them while they move toward the cash register and to the beverage station."
Like all operations on campus, this one adheres to all food safety and proper food handling procedures, as well as customer service standards.
Burkhart's central campus location makes it an appealing option for many faculty and staff members, who spend an average of $7.59 per meal. This Quiznos outlet is the only location in Lubbock that serves breakfast.
One of the greatest challenges that the Hospitality Services management team faced when the unit first opened was to help the students to come out of their comfort zones, learn new ways of ordering food and work in a foodservice operation. "This challenge has been met with enthusiasm, and over the past few months employee morale has skyrocketed as our student employees become more and more confident in the job they are doing," Rodriguez says.
As a result, the operation continues to see increases in sales month-to-month, and the managerial staff has developed a very tight bond with Burkhart Center's staff.
Keeping the operation efficient, its equipment package includes a combi oven, a walk-in cooler, a walk-in freezer, two rapid-speed conveyor ovens, a drop-in hot well and multiple sinks. While similar to a regular Quiznos operation, this layout features a large glass window in the back that allows customers to see the learning lab in action.
Sustainable facets of the operation include energy-efficient cooking equipment, compact fluorescent light bulbs and the use of natural light in the seating area.
Texas Tech Hospitality Services also introduced its StrEat food truck to campus in the summer of 2014. The department paid slightly more than $200,000 for the custom-built truck. "Since [the city of] Lubbock had a food truck ban in place at the time, [the] StrEat food truck was a trendsetter for the campus," says David Deason, associate managing director, Hospitality Services.
StrEat helps reach underserved areas of campus that lack the space for a brick-and-mortar foodservice operation. The truck parks in academic areas of campus, at the Health Sciences Center and in the commuter parking lot. It serves students, faculty and staff and accepts dining plans as well as cash, checks and credit card payments. In addition, the food truck provides new and exciting options for catered events. "Private events with customized menus have been a huge success with our Top Tier Catering clientele," Deason says.
StrEat also serves as a portable emergency kitchen on campus during any emergency situation or in case of a natural disaster. For example, the truck was used as an emergency kitchen when a fire forced one of the mini-markets to close for a week. StrEat served breakfast, lunch and dinner to students who reside in the area.
Operating at set locations on alternating days, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast and 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. for lunch Monday through Thursday, StrEat operates the same hours on Friday, but the locations vary and are announced via social media. "Each week StrEat has the opportunity to reach new customers and introduce them to Hospitality Services' offerings," Deason says. "The truck has also proven to be a strong marketing tool for the department because people are drawn to social media sites, and once they are there they can see what's happening in other operations, as well."
Staff prepare food for the truck in the Top Tier Catering kitchen and assemble it on the truck before service. The fully functional kitchen on wheels includes a flat-top grill, two fryers, a fry holder, a hot well, coolers and a freezer. A pull-out comes over the curb and allows customers to be eye-to-eye with StrEat staff members at the point of sale. The menu features Monte Cristo sandwiches, StrEat pita tacos, side dishes, and vegetarian items such as Caprese Cristo, StrEat corn and hatch chile bites as well as tilapia tacos. The average check is $5.69.
Efficiency and sustainability are designed into the truck. For example, the generator runs on liquid propane, LED lighting on the canopy provides a much brighter counter area at a lower cost than regular lighting, and the white color absorbs less heat from the brutal west Texas sun. Designed with shore power capability, the truck can run off electricity rather than the generator when it parks near a building. For beverages, bottled and canned drinks are offered rather than fountain drinks, which eliminates the need to maintain an icemaker on the truck.