The driving force behind the renovation of Selleck Food Court at the University of Nebraska — Lincoln (UNL) began as a revisioning of the dining center into a community space for students, faculty and staff.
The goals included improving student satisfaction with Dining Services, providing students with more takeout options, offering made-to-order and customizable menu items and increasing non-meal-plan sales.
The project began as a remodel of the oldest dining center on the UNL campus, a centrally located, all-you-care-to-eat operation with serving lines. The project team’s intention was to reconfigure stations into restaurant-style concepts and give the servery and dining room a cosmetic upgrade.
Design began, and then COVID-19 hit, delaying the original project. “As a result of COVID, the operation moved to online orders only, with seven individual pickup stations,” says foodservice consultant Jennifer Rohn, principal, Erickson Sullivan Architects/Foodlines.
Director of Dining Services Dave Annis and the UNL team worked with a company and its mobile ordering platform to quickly convert Selleck Dining from an all-you-care-to-eat operation to a mobile ordering concept offering menu items from seven different restaurant concepts, including one national chain-branded concept, Qdoba. “We completely changed focus to a retail concept in which the old serving lines became ghost kitchen production lines where staff prepared menu items the students ordered on the mobile app. The prepared menu items were then moved from the production lines to heated or cooled holding lines at order pickup counters for each restaurant concept,” Annis says.
When Annis, his staff and the project team realized how well the students adapted to app ordering and coming into the servery to pick up their orders, they decided to keep it and renovate the space for this style of service versus the original all-you-care-to-eat operation.
The old Selleck closed on May 14, 2021, at which point renovation of the serving lines and addition of equipment in the back-of-the-house kitchen began. The space opened for takeout service only on Sept. 21, 2021. In October, the north portion of the seating area opened, and in November, the fully redone dining room was ready for occupancy. Then, in August 2022, the gluten-free cafe, Moxie’s, opened.
“We are proud of creating a place and space where anyone can come in, study, talk and if they want, they can eat,” Annis says. “This is a community center than serves food, not a foodservice that so happens to also be a community center.”
To create a community center vibe, Selleck Dining Hall has an atmosphere that differs from most other spaces on the campus. “We provided distinct seating areas as a wholesale change from what had formerly been a sea of identical dining tables and chairs,” Rohn says. “Seating areas now offer options for individuals and any type or size of groups. We added booths with open-frame steel ‘canopies,’ soft-seating areas with tablet tables, and groupings of lounge chairs.”
Colors in the dining area were chosen to specifically avoid the “Husker red” used by the school’s mascot. Instead, the space contains a more natural appearance by incorporating curved architecture and neutral colors. Annis proposed focusing on elements unique to Nebraska like the western meadowlark, goldenrod flower and honeybees. A topographical map of Nebraska’s rivers, all in perforated steel panels, wraps around an open fireplace. Other images such as corn on the back of booths and a birdhouse that sits on top of a pergola with the only Nebraska logo in that space also call attention to Nebraska and the campus’s history. Much to many visitors’ surprise, no televisions hang in this space.
“Since it opened in 1958, this dining hall has gone through a few renovations and served generations of students, staff and faculty,” Annis says. “What’s very cool to me is that this is not only the oldest dining center on campus, but also the most modern. I love that there are students eating at Selleck today whose grandparents ate here when they were students at UNL.”
Delivery, Production and Menu Flow
After food deliveries arrive at the loading dock, staff take many menu items into a freight elevator and down to the basement level and place them in two walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer or dry storage. In the ingredient/production room on this level, staff cut vegetables and herbs and prepare other mise en place for use in the kitchen above. When staff take the ingredients up to the back-of-the-house kitchen, they place them in refrigerators where they remain until needed for daily production.
Most of the equipment in the back-of-the-house kitchen is the same as it was when the operation was an all-you-care-to-eat marketplace. Some new equipment, such as combi ovens and hot holding shelves, were added during the renovation.
Staff cook proteins in new combi ovens and a charbroiler; prepare eggs, bacon and sausage on a flattop griddle; and heat gravies in a 30-quart kettle. Staff heat biscuits in combi ovens and convection ovens.
For cleanup, staff place pots, pans and utensils into a three-compartment sink with soak stations before loading up a flight-type dishwasher. Food scraps are placed into a digester.
Front of the House
When customers come to the stations to pick up their online orders, they see staff assembling ingredients or just picking up packaged ready-to-go orders prepared in the back of the house and handing them to customers. They might interact with staff if they wish. Many ingredients are seasonal, so the menu changes to reflect the available foods.
“Temperature control is the name of the game for success here,” Annis says. “For example, the hot holding shelves are an important part of keeping our food hot until the orders are picked up. Conversely, for our salad and sushi areas, the cold display cases and reach-in refrigeration also make delivering the food to the students at the front pickup counter fast.”
At Grains & Greens, a refrigerated display cabinet holds prepared salad bowls with chicken, salmon, Asian chicken salad and fall squash, as well as grain bowls including Mediterranean beef, yellow curry and tilapia. Also on display here is sushi made fresh daily by a company that has a service contract with Dining Services. Reach-in refrigerators with ingredients stand behind the front counter. Vertical growing towers sit on the side of a counter holding greens and herbs that are grown on-site.
UNL Dining has a license agreement with Qdoba, the only national chain in the Selleck concept lineup. UNL Dining Services staff prepare according to Qdoba standards. In the servery, staff cook proteins in the combi oven and on the flattop griddles and fryers. Qdoba menu items such as chicken are prepared on one of two flattops. Chips are prepared in the fryer and then held in hot warming drawers. “We have a lot of flexibility to be able to use equipment in the front servery or in the kitchen to prepare menu items for any restaurant as needed,” Guernsey says.
Staff on the Qdoba prep line prepare tortillas for soft tacos, burritos and quesadillas that are held in warming drawers beneath the front-of-the-house counter and assembled with ingredients held in cold and hot pans as they are ordered.
Scarlet Skillet contains two cold wells that hold ingredients for omelets and bowls. Six induction cookers allow staff to make eggs, omelets and skillet bowls. A fryer is close by to cook the cubed potatoes for hash browns and the skillet bowls.
Customers ordering menu items from Pasta Buono pick and choose from different types of noodles cooked in a pasta cooker on its production line, as well as proteins cooked in front-of-the-house combis, and sauces prepared in back-of-the-house kettles. Staff bake pasta dishes in an impinger oven in the front of the house. Bins with ingredients such as cheese, vegetables, herb seasonings and other toppings sit in cold wells on the production line.
Customers can also order individual pizzas that arrive at Selleck Food Court pre-made from Dining Services’ licensed provider, Godfather’s Pizza, a brand which originated in Nebraska. Staff bake these at the time of sale, using two impinger ovens. All pasta items come with side salads or fruit as an option.
Selleck’s popular smoothie/ice cream concept, Cold Creations, uses four blenders and ingredients sitting in refrigerated wells to make smoothies. A soft-serve machine makes the ice cream for sundaes and parfaits.
Moxie’s Gluten-Free Café has its own space. “This is the first designated space for gluten-free menu items on campus,” Annis says. “While we serve gluten-free menu items at all the dining centers and markets, this is the only area exclusively designed for gluten-free food. The creation of Moxie’s Gluten-Free Café is a big step toward our commitment to inclusive dining services for our students and campus community.”
The cafe resides completely separately from the back-of-the-house kitchen and other stations. An air handler on the roof provides positive pressure in the dining space so air blows out when a door opens. “This way, no air is brought back into the space,” Annis says.
“We don’t allow students to bring in any other foods into this area in respect of their peers who want to be sure they are receiving food from a gluten-free environment,” Guernsey says.
Moxie’s serves, pizza, sandwiches, noodle bowls and salads. All menu items are made to order. As with the other stations, customers select their menu items online. Staff use high-speed ovens to bake pizza and melt cheese on sandwiches. They use a rice cooker to hold hot broth for the noodle bowls while using a small tabletop hot water pasta cooker to heat rice noodles for the bowls. Two cold bars and a small hot bar hold all the ingredients for the bowls, pizzas, salads and sandwiches at their proper temperature until the item is ordered and created.
Resource and Labor Savings
Because Selleck Food Court relies exclusively on mobile ordering, the operation uses a lot of packaging. However, the packaging is reusable and disposable. Selleck Dining offers reusable containers as well as compostable paper products and recyclable plastic takeout containers.
“Food waste has gone down because customers select just what they want to eat rather than taking bigger portions with an all-you-care-to-eat program,” Annis says. Staff track waste, and all food waste is placed into digestors so that none of the capturable food waste goes to the landfills. The digested foods travel from the digestor down a drain and to the city treatment plant. “Liquid food composting is an aerobic digestion process as compared to a landfill where the digestion process is anaerobic,” Annis says. “This process creates less greenhouse gases and saves other resources when compared to taking waste food to the landfill,” Annis adds.
Campus-wide, UNL Dining Services also works with food recovery groups to distribute leftover food to shelters.
Selleck Food Court’s operation also saves labor for UNL Dining Services. Much of the labor savings result from a change in production. “We have changed the menu drastically,” Guernsey says. “Everything is made to order from the app orders. We’re not on a five-cycle menu anymore. Each restaurant has a set menu that changes with the season, so we use less bulk/batch cooking than we used to and use fewer recipes. For example, we’re not making big casseroles and mashed potatoes and gravy. We were thrown into this because of COVID, but it took off after that.”
Guernsey also appreciates getting more facetime with students. “We say the names of each customer to make sure we’re matching them up with their orders, so we get to know their names and faces.”
Despite all the benefits of the online ordering and streamlined menu, Guernsey admits that she misses some of the culinary creativity the staff enjoyed previously. “We could educate our customers about food, and with an all-you-care-to-eat plan, they’d try new menu items and special meals. We’d also pick themes and decorate the space.”
“For today’s students, convenience is an important part of what they are looking for from their dining services,” Annis says. “The mobile ordering model at Selleck has over the last year become the most popular dining center on campus, averaging 3,400 customers a day. This model of service has decreased our labor by five full-time equivalents and decreased our food costs.”
The decision to go with mobile ordering and not renovate the old servery to an all-you-care-to-eat system, Annis adds, “saved us $2.5 million on this project. This project is expected to have an ROI in two and a half to three years. Student satisfaction is up, and while most of the sales are through the student meal plan, the mobile app opened up the dining centers to students who don’t have meal plans and may be on campus for just a few hours a day and use credit cards for payment. The convenience of the mobile app is bringing in substantially more ‘new’ revenue in credit card sales than our previous AYCTE model.”
With all these savings and customer satisfaction, Selleck Food Court will continue to bring attention not only on UNL’s campus but on campuses nationwide.
About the Project
Opened: August 2022
Scope of project: Servery renovation into marketplace-style food court
Equipment investment: $425,000
Size: Servery (to-go stations and Moxie’s Gluten-Free Café counter), 2,800 sq. ft.; back-of-the-house gluten-free area, 250 sq. ft.; dining room, 9,650 sq. ft.
Seats: 450 seats, including 30 in Moxie’s Gluten-Free Café
- Grains & Greens: $7.50
- Selleck Café: $9
- Qdoba: $10.25
- Scarlet Skillet: $6.75
- Pasta Buono: $9
- Cold Creations: $5.85
- Moxie’s: $9.25
Annual sales: $3.4 million
Daily transactions/covers: 3,400
Hours: 6:45 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Grains & Greens: 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.
- Selleck Café: 6:45 a.m. until 8 p.m.
- Qdoba: 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.
- Scarlet Skillet: 6:45 a.m. until 2 p.m.
- Pasta Buono: 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.
- Cold Creations: 9 a.m. until 8 p.m.
- Moxie’s: 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Staff: 38 full-time equivalents; 8 part-time; 85 to 100 students
Total project cost: $2.3 million