Today’s college students demand bold, unique flavors in their dining choices. But real estate remains at a premium at many smaller universities, which impacts how much space operators can dedicate to foodservice. To provide those flavors in a condensed space, Sodexo developed CRU5H (pronounced “crush”). This food and drink concept combines the variety one would expect to find in a food court into one unique brand.

Will TaylorBy Will Taylor, Director, Service Development, Culinary Solutions, Sodexo, Gaithersburg, Md.

With five locations in operation and more planned, CRU5H serves as an alternative or supplement to the traditional college dining hall. It’s a stand-alone retail brand with five stations: Fun on a Bun (grill sandwiches); APPZ (appetizers); B.A.D. Egg (breakfast all day); ZERTS (desserts); and Mexcellente (Tex-Mex). If CRU5H functions as part of a larger food court that includes a Mexican or dessert concept in the adjacent space, then either or both of those stations can drop out of the build. Only the first three concepts are mandatory for the brand because they all share the same equipment set — flattop grills, fryers, make tables and a combi oven.

CRU5H can operate in three different sizes, which range from 25 to 32 linear feet. In the smaller footprint, we move some of the equipment (like fryers and flattop grills) to the back of house. As the size scales up to medium and large, the cooking equipment moves to the front so guests can see the action.

Olivete Nazarene 4648The wide variety of menu offerings, from burgers to wings to Mexican fare, appeals to students at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.

While building the menu we selected the equipment needed to support it and then thought through the layout to help our employees be the most efficient. Students place orders on touch-screen ordering kiosks; mobile ordering is also available in many CRU5H locations. The menu is highly customizable, so once customers make their choices, tickets print in the kitchen. The chef then prepares and assembles the orders, cooking the proteins to order and frying any appetizers. After cooking the ingredients, the chefs hand them off to the expediters, who add the toppings, sauces and seasonings per the customers’ directions.

Equipping and Designing

We were very careful about our equipment choices. There’s a lot going on in the space, so we made sure to include two flattop grills — one for burgers and chicken and one for eggs, since guests can order breakfast all day. Or, if we need to use one for a vegetarian burger, that becomes an option as well. When making milkshakes and smoothies, we use a special blender that can prepare a custom menu item in less than 32 seconds — and the product is amazing. In the first 21 days after we opened at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., we sold more than 900 milkshakes and smoothies. We would have sold more, but we ran out of product!

A lot of thought went into the design of the physical space as well. Key design details make the space really fun and interesting, including inspirational quotes and messaging, digital menu boards and sound domes that hang down in the front of the space and play music that guests can only hear when they stand right beneath them. A mix of textures, such as brick and reclaimed wood, and decorative lighting, bring visual interest while the fresh ingredients provide the pops of color. One design feature customers really like is the beach cruiser bike sign that lights up and reads “Fantastic food.”

Lessons Learned

We’ve learned a number of lessons since opening our first CRU5H but none that really impacted the overall design. For example, we updated the equipment package to use a different fryer. Working with a unit that has baskets on a timer allows culinary team members to maintain product quality and consistency while they multitask.

The menu was ambitious, so we have been more flexible on the rotation of the different menu items. That allows for better efficiencies when it comes to production, speed of service, food cost and inventory management. While this change didn’t impact the design of the space, it did help optimize efficiency in using the space we created.

Overall, the main lesson learned is that you have to be customer-centric when building a brand. You have to anticipate customer needs and build a brand that solves a problem. CRU5H solves two key problems for our clients: lack of space and lack of variety.