Much to the delight of the University of California, Riverside community, the highly anticipated, renovated and expanded The Barn restaurant and Patio Bar opened last summer. It stayed in operation until December 2020 when it closed due to University of California guidelines, which meant minimal students on campus. The university plans to reopen the facility this fall.
The campus community had eagerly awaited returning to these favorite iconic dining spots following a two-year remodeling and expansion project. Other facets of the $30 million project included adding another outdoor bar, an entertainment stage for concerts, plus an exclusive faculty/staff full-service concept called The Barn Stable that includes an indoor bar.
The Barn, a treasured space on the UCR campus, was built in 1917 as a working barn and horse stable from the university’s early days as the Riverside Citrus Experiment Station. The Barn was incorporated into the university in 1955 as a dining and music performance venue until it was closed in the summer of 2018 when renovation and expansion began. “The mission of the project was to enhance and expand a restaurant and entertainment site already rich in tradition so it would have the potential for serving more students, faculty, staff, alumni and the Riverside community,” says David Henry, executive director, housing, dining and hospitality services. “The faculty and staff lounge is
a new addition.”
With all its components, The Barn project occupies 18,500 square feet — triple the size of the original kitchen, dining area, the old stable and theater building. Approximately 11,580 square feet were added during the project. Another 9,200 square feet for outdoor seating and programming space was added as well.
The structure includes 5,000 square feet of culinary space that houses a fully equipped kitchen and four main food concepts: Hot Table, Grill, Deli and Salads. The project increased indoor seating and expanded outdoor dining on two patios. The outdoor entertainment stage is adjacent to Patio Bar, which was built to accommodate 1,000 spectators. The Stable will offer all-you-care-to eat foodservice as well as a full-service indoor bar that includes beer, wine and spirits.
The Barn was originally scheduled to open in late April 2020. Outdoor concerts were to be phased in later. Yet in mid-March, as the COVID-19 pandemic crisis took hold, the UCR campus closed to everyone but essential workers. All dining rooms were shuttered. Plans for opening and operating changed. “The Barn wasn’t designed for a worldwide pandemic,” Henry says.
“We had to shift our focus from a grand opening with entertainment to how to open during a pandemic,” says Marcus Van Vleet, director of The Barn and campus dining. “We wanted to give something to the campus community, even if it wasn’t everything we had hoped for. The whole team came together to make an opening possible.”
On July 13, following state and local guidelines requiring social distancing and adhering to protocols for masks, protective shields and sanitation, the UCR dining staff opened The Barn and Patio Bar for takeout and outdoor dining to the reduced number of students and staff who were on campus, as well as the Riverside community. “The Barn has a lot of resonance with the Riverside community due to its history of hosting live concerts,” Henry says. “It was designed to serve not just UCR but the wider community as well.”
The Barn and Patio Bar remained open until December 2020. “We had to adjust The Barn and Patio Bar menus and serving styles to accommodate about 70% fewer customers than we had originally anticipated,” Henry says.
The restaurant operated two of the four stations — Hot Table and Grill — for lunch Monday through Friday. Grill was also open for happy hour after 3 p.m. Patio Bar offered a walk-up window where customers could order beer and wine, including signature craft beers brewed with infused citrus picked at UCR’s Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection. The bar offered a casual appetizer menu with wings, sliders and loaded fries. In July, two BBQ Night events helped spread the word about The Barn’s reopening. Guests could order family-size BBQ Meal Deal Platters ahead of time and pick up curbside. One hundred of these were sold at the first event with a check average of $70.
A Nod to Tradition and the Future
The design team had to decide how much of the original structure of The Barn to keep and how much to update. “People have long had an affection for this venue,” says Van Vleet. “We wanted to respect the history of The Barn and the energy people feel when they are here just hanging out and reconnecting. We wanted to give a nod to history — alumni remember hanging off the pillars here — and yet exceed expectations and look to the future.”
Knowing that The Barn design had the potential to be controversial because it was such a loved space on campus, Henry and Van Vleet organized six groups of campus decision-makers, who walked through the construction site. The goal was to balance the design with a nod to the past and also design for the future. “We brought them to The Barn, talked about the menu and menu ingredients, and introduced them to beer makers and winemakers, who offered samples of their products,” Van Vleet says. “People were enamored to be part of this process. We were able to get ahead of managing expectations, so when the facilities opened, no one was shocked or disappointed because they already felt part of the decision-making process.”
Managers also engaged the culinary team in the design process and menus. “What’s interesting about the design process is that we as managers go through design processes and we think we’re doing the best job,” Henry says. “But the people who work in the space understand what’s needed, such as how to reduce the steps and turnarounds they take when working the cookline. We brought them into the decision-making process, and because they were involved, they bought into the process.”
Executive chef and culinary arts lead instructor Lanette Dickerson involved staff in menu development, explaining the history of the products developed on campus, such as the extensive citrus program. “This way, the staff feel they are attached to something meaningful,” she says.
Architecturally, the main dining hall expands on the original building, retaining some of the trusses and wood beams. “The woodwork defines the character of the space,” Henry says. “You can even see charred wood from a 1970s fire. The design is a modern reinterpretation of The Barn, and we had to make sure our operation could work around these features.”
The building features a glass outer wall with lattice slats that fills the dining room with natural light, which is a stark change from the old facility’s dark atmosphere. The opposite glass wall doubles as the backdrop for the new concert venue. Another standout feature of The Barn is the 27-foot ticket tower for shows that features a glowing lantern-like design at the outside east entrance.
The project is on target to receive LEED Gold certification, according to Gustavo Plascencia, UCR’s project manager, safety and sustainability. The foodservice components include food waste dehydrators that convert food waste into a nitrogen-rich biomass that can be finished as compost or used as a soil amendment. The compost is then turned over to the agricultural operations team on campus. In addition, a direct-plumbed waste cooking oil collection system eliminates the risks associated with manual handling of used cooking oil.
Receiving, Production and Product Flow
“Careful thought was put into the entire design of The Barn,” Henry says. “From the back dock to the front entrance gate, the design and operational teams meticulously reviewed every detail for accuracy and flow.” Staff throughout the department provided input on different aspects of this project, with a total of 26 different groups working to bring The Barn to life.
The design of the back dock allows the culinary team to efficiently and effectively check food in and ensure accuracy of deliveries and food safety measures. The loading dock, set away from pedestrian traffic areas, faces a street. It can accommodate two delivery trucks at one time, which helps staff monitor the flow of deliveries. The storekeeper’s workstation faces the dock and is visible from the chef’s office, which also facilitates monitoring and control of the flow of goods and materials. The trash compactor, food waste and recycling receptacles are also all visible from the chef’s office and located at the dock. After receiving deliveries, staff immediately place menu ingredients into storage areas, including two walk-in coolers, a walk-in freezer and dry storage.
The centrally located production kitchen is flanked by the chef’s office, cold and dry storage rooms, and the dish room. The flow of products goes from receiving to storage to preparation and cooking, then to holding at the serving platforms. “The seamless flow of products allows us to be very efficient,” Plascencia says.
The dish room sits in close proximity to the guest seating areas to facilitate the flow of dishes. Cold and dry storage areas sit adjacent to the production kitchen to reduce cross traffic.
The production kitchen includes a cookline as well as a hot and cold assembly and holding area. It also contains a produce prep zone with a produce soak sink. “The produce soak sink uses rotating wash action to wash a variety of whole, cut and peeled produce,” Plascencia says. “The system eliminates manual washing of fruits and vegetables and increases the shelf life of the produce by removing soil and bacteria.” The produce prep zone also contains a food processor, a slicer and a food cutter. A 40-quart mixer also supports production. The back-of-the-house hot prep line includes a smoker, a pressure fryer, combi ovens, a charbroiler, a six-burner range with a convection oven beneath and a 15-gallon tilt skillet.
In the front of the house, equipment visible to customers on the main cookline for Grill is organized as follows: a conveyor toaster, a heated cabinet, a prep table, a clamshell griddle, a flattop griddle, a refrigerated base, a fried food holder, a worktop freezer, a fryer assembly space, a heated cabinet, a prep table and a conveyor toaster. “We developed the flow for Grill so food can come from both directions to expediter stations,” Henry says.
Menu items at Grill include beef, vegan and turkey burgers; barbecue burgers; hand-breaded chicken sandwiches; made-to-order deli sandwiches and sides such as steak fries, fried pickles and onion rings; and salads. Late afternoon (3 p.m. until close) additions include chicken wings and southwest egg rolls. Hot Table features barbecue slow smoked in-house in a rotisserie oven, fried chicken, grilled beef tips, vegan curry fried rice stuffed peppers and additional items.
The other two concepts, Salads and Deli, which share the rotisserie oven with Hot Table, will open when The Barn opens to in-person customers again in the fall. Whatever the return date, students, faculty, staff and community will place The Barn and all the new expansions at the top of their to-do lists. Those who enjoyed the iconic space in the past will indulge in nostalgic memories, and they, along with people who are visiting for the first time, will build new traditions and memories that will last for generations.
Facts of Note
Opened: July 13, 2020
Scope of project: Renovation and expansion of a campus dining hall, including two outdoor courtyard areas, one of which includes a patio with a walk-up bar and a concert stage. The project also added a lounge and indoor bar exclusively for staff and faculty.
Total project cost: $30 million
URC: Pre-COVID-19 enrollment: 25,000. Approximately 6,700 students lived on campus, and 22,300 faculty, staff and commuter students came to campus. In February 2021: up to 1,700 students living on campus (30% of pre-COVID-19), only a few hundred essential staff and faculty came to campus.
Size: The Barn restaurant, 18,500 sq. ft.; outdoor entertainment/programming venue, 9,200 sq. ft.; The Stable, 4,900 sq. ft.
COVID-19 impact: The Barn restaurant and Patio Bar closed in December 2020. Plans are to open The Barn, Patio Bar and The Barn Stable (faculty and staff lounge) in the fall of 2021.
Seats at full capacity, non-COVID-19 restrictions: The Barn indoor dining, 102; outdoor dining, 376; The Stable faculty and staff lounge, 67
Average check at The Barn: $11.15
Transactions: 400 to 600 per day in summer 2020, upward of 800 to 1,000 per day September through December 2020.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Stable hours are yet to be determined.
Menu Specialties: Grill’s specialties include beef, vegan and turkey burgers; barbecue burgers; hand-breaded chicken sandwiches; made-to-order deli sandwiches and sides such as steak fries, fried pickles and onion rings; salads; and Barn Bites appetizers, including chicken wings and southwest egg rolls from 3 p.m. to close. Hot Table specialties include barbecue slow smoked in-house, fried chicken, grilled beef tips and vegan curry fried rice stuffed peppers.
Staff: approximately 20 per day
Ownership: UC Riverside
Executive director, Housing, Dining & Hospitality Services: David Henry
Senior director, dining: Robin Hungerford
Director, The Barn and campus dining: Marcus Van Vleet
Executive chef, culinary arts lead instructor: Lanette Dickerson
Project manager, safety and sustainability: Gustavo Plascencia
Architect: SVA Architects, Berkeley, Calif.: Doug Brown, NCARB, senior associate partner
Interior design: Fernau Hartman Architects, Berkeley, Calif.: Laura Boutelle, associate principal
Kitchen design consultants: Laschober + Sovich, Woodland Hills, Calif.: Larry Lanier, principal
Equipment dealer: Duray J.F. Duncan Industries, Downey, Calif.
Construction: Tilden Coil, Riverside, Calif.