Facility Design Project of the Month

Each month, FE&S spotlights a project worth talking about, with in-depth coverage from concept through completion including a kitchen equipment floor plan.


The Dining Room at Union Pacific Center, Omaha, Neb.

With employee wellness a core value, Union Pacific Railroad encourages healthful eating in its new dining operation's food stations by showcasing fresh food cooked to order on an array of prominently displayed E&S.

The highlights include enormous exhaust hoods dropping from the ceiling, a coffee bar with two-sided access, and pivoting panels that allow reconfiguration of the dining room.

As the largest railroad in North America, Union Pacific Railroad operates across 23 states in the western two-thirds of the country. Its primary function is transporting freight — chemicals, coal, food and food products, forest products, grain and grain products, truck trailers and containers, metals and minerals, and automobiles and parts. The railroad also operates a commuter operation in Chicago.

Last summer, Union Pacific employees moved into a new headquarters building in Omaha, Neb. The 1.3-million-square-foot, $260 million Union Pacific Center replaces the company’s former office sites in both downtown Omaha and St. Louis. The center can accommodate more than 4,100 employees, says Ken Megel, general director, Executive Services for Union Pacific.

Featuring a 19-story, glass-fronted atrium that bathes each floor with outside natural light, the new Union Pacific facility occupies a full city block and includes a training center, credit union, fitness/wellness center, retail shop and a foodservice operation open to the public. Named The Dining Room, the operation consists of a 500-seat dining area, a 5,700-square-foot marketplace-style servery featuring exhibition-style cooking and a 3,200-square-foot kitchen. Managed by Redwood Shores, Calif.-based contract services firm Guckenheimer, the foodservice operation also includes conference pantries.

“Our mission was to design a facility that captured the pride of the company both for its history and its movement into the future,” says Charley Kifer, interior design director for the Union Pacific project and Houston office design director for Gensler. For Gensler’s David Epstein, building designer for the Union Pacific project, this meant creating an environment that conveyed the company’s core business — the railroad — and its ability to use technology. The result is a building that is transparent. People can literally see into the structure from the street.

Taking advantage of this openness presented opportunities and challenges for the entire project team. For example, in the foodservice operation, located on the second-floor atrium level where the ceiling extends 14 feet, a floor-to-ceiling glass window comprises the entire west wall. “We wanted to keep the ceiling height and the window free of any obstruction,” Kifer explains. “Rather than design a dropped soffit throughout the serving area, we dropped the exhaust hoods from the ceiling when needed.” A copper hood serves the Food for Thought station, while The Grill features stainless-steel and aluminum hoods.

“The use of metal expressions in the servery relates to the huge copper frame and other metals used in the atrium, the elevator lobby and throughout the building, including on the 50,000-square-foot floors,” Kifer explains.

“The hoods are among the servery’s most prominent design elements,” confirms the project’s foodservice consultant, Ron Kooser, Cini-Little International. “The hoods became almost pieces of art in the area. Since the restaurant was going to be open to the public, the design had to be exciting and offer something that would encourage customers to return on a regular basis — both for the food and atmosphere.”

The desire to leave the enormous window unobstructed presented other challenges. “Equipment couldn’t be put up against the window, so we placed backs on pieces of free-floating equipment,” Kooser notes. “In addition, the inability to put equipment against the wall cut into the available space for equipment and stations.”

The decision to position an array of equipment at food stations and emphasize food merchandising was, in part, driven by the company’s desire to attract customers into the dining facility. It also helps emphasize and encourage wellness, one of Union Pacific’s core values. “We are very concerned about employees’ health,” Megel explains. “Through The Dining Room, we are demonstrating that we can serve high-quality food that is healthy and eye-appealing.”

To support the focus on healthful fare, displays with nutrition information tell customers what they need to know to support their diets, including which featured specials contain no more than 30% calories from fat, according to Jason Ridley, Guckenheimer’s resident area manager.

Customer response to The Dining Room has been positive, reports Megel, noting that transactions average 1,900 to 2,000 per day. The servery is open from 6:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., though the coffee bar is open from 6:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Public customers’ transactions account for 10% to 15% of sales, while employee meals are discounted.

Purveyors bring in food and supplies through the basement and take them to the second-floor kitchen via a dedicated elevator. Employees deliver soda supplies to the first-floor mezzanine, home to a soda system and compressors. When food and supplies arrive in the kitchen, employees place them in walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer or dry storage until distribution to various prep and cooking stations is needed. Staff use back-of-house equipment to prepare garde manger, soups, sauces, meats and baked goods for the servery stations. The back-of-house kitchen also serves as a banquet kitchen. According to Ridley, staff prepare food for up to 50 catered functions daily in the building and Training Center, which is located on the opposite side of the atrium and connected to the kitchen by a bridge walkway. Staff use carts to transport food to appropriate destinations.

When entering the servery, the hoods, creative graphics and fresh food are prominent. At each station is equipment needed for display and preparation of a wide variety of menu items. Ample undercounter and upright refrigeration holds ingredients throughout a meal period.

To customers’ left side is a coffee bar with specialty coffees and an espresso machine. “This is unique to the design,” Kooser explains. “It is accessible from the inside of the servery and when the servery is closed, the served side of the coffee bar stays open.” Display cases in this section present desserts and pastries. The soft-serve machines offer self-service when the servery is open and are operated by staff when the servery is closed.

On the right side are flatware dispensers and a Grab ’n Go section with air-screen refrigerated cases. Moving around the perimeter, customers encounter The Deli with its sandwich prep refrigerators and panini grill. “Fresh ingredients are literally stacked so customers can see what we’re using to prepare made-to-order deli sandwiches, which are also stacked high if requested,” Ridley says.

The neighboring station is Food for Thought, an exhibition cooking area featuring assembled-to-order Asian stir-fries, Mexican dishes, pasta “tosses” and Road to Romaine tossed-to-order salads. Staff also prepare healthy choices with salmon, chicken, tofu and vegetables, as well as breakfast items. This section is equipped with countertop heated shelves, display shelves, refrigerated cold pans, induction warmers, an exhaust hood, a worktop freezer, a countertop steamer, a six-burner range with an oven, an undercounter refrigerator and countertop rotisserie.

Further along in a counterclockwise direction is Pizza Plus, showcasing a full line of pizzas baked in a “wood-burning” oven. Other items available at this station include calzones, strombolis and pasta dishes. The pizza oven, a favored customer attraction, is used primarily for pizza but also for roasting tomatoes for salsas and sauces.

Staff use a six-burner range with a conventional oven below for heating sauces, cooking breakfast items to order, smaller batch soups and stocks.

Along the windowed wall is Entrées, featuring two daily specials, such as Spicy Jambalaya and Chicken Capri Tortellini. These and breakfast entrées are presented on a countertop heated shelf and serving counter in stainless-steel roasting pans and white crockery.

Next is The Grill, offering a more static menu, including burgers, portobello mushrooms and Grill Differential — a special program featuring beer-boiled bratwurst sandwiches, stuffed guacamole burgers and balsamic-grilled mixed vegetable pitas. In addition to a charbroiler, this station’s equipment includes a cold prep counter, fryers, a worktable refrigerator, countertop heated shelves and cabinets. A heated merchandiser, a cold pan and toppings pan also sit in this area.

In the center of the servery is the Salad Bar, which Ridley reports accounts for 20% to 25% of all food sold in this area. Breakfast fruit and pastries also are displayed here. Staff prepare nearly 90% of salad dressings in-house, according to Ridley, “to control sodium content and keep with our focus on freshness.” In addition to refrigerated serving counters and wells and undercounter refrigerators, this area contains drop-in wells for three daily soup offerings.

With its emphasis on employee wellness, Union Pacific is traveling into the future on a track designed to support the very lifeline of its enterprise. The ability of the foodservice team to make the most efficient use of E&S will surely contribute to these healthful efforts.