An efficient, casual café bridges the university’s main and downtown campuses and forges a partnership with the local community through its comfortable environment and fresh, made-to-order fare.
he TUniversity of Richmond’s strategic plan strives to forge a stronger link between the institution’s main and downtown campuses, helping to bridge the eight miles that separate the two locations. The plan also calls for the university to partner with the community and become a positive presence in Richmond’s rapidly growing downtown area. Thanks to the vision of Dr. Edward Ayers, university president, and Diane (Dee) Hardy, associate vice president for Campus Services, a new fast-casual café is helping this strategy come to life.
Richmond on Broad Café celebrates its nine-month anniversary in May. Located on Broad Street and Seventh Street, a busy corner where downtown businesses, medical facilities and entertainment venues come together, the café serves breakfast, lunch and mid-afternoon refreshments.
The 1,854-square-foot café, with an additional 445 square feet of storage on the basement level, is open to the community, serving food in a decor that captures architectural and design features of both the university and the city. Services also include catering and box-lunch service, including deliveries.
The café’s dynamic made-to-order menu features locally and regionally sourced ingredients. To-go sandwiches, salads, cookies, pastries and other items are available in earth-friendly packaging.
Primarily serving local businesspersons, personnel from nearby medical facilities, and staff and guests from local hotels, the café accepts cash as well as credit and debit cards. Students, faculty and staff from the downtown and main University of Richmond campuses may also use meal plan dining dollars and departmental charges, as appropriate.
In anticipation of opening a café, Campus Dining Services brought in the Cornyn Fasano Group to conduct a feasibility study to gauge demand for the proposed restaurant. Results showed the primary customer segment to be 5,000 office workers within a 3-block radius. A secondary market of 850 business travelers and tourists, both foreign and domestic, was also identified. The tertiary market consists of the 10,000 residents in the city’s center. This market segment includes people from the medical campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and students from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. The lack of public parking limits the customer base to a walking population.
Other findings of the feasibility study indicated that the sales potential in the primary and secondary markets is high, due to the small number of dining establishments within the target area that supply quality meals for less than $10. For this reason, the feasibility study projects an annual sales increase of 4 percent.
Dining Services also hired Leonard Condenzio, partner with Centennial, Colo.-based firm Ricca Newmark Design, and Michelle Maestas, senior designer, to provide the design schematic for the café’s kitchen, serving, dining and support areas and make recommendations for equipment and design elements and finishes.
The café, formerly occupied by a bank, began as an open space with only cement columns and a floor. Today, when customers approach the café’s exterior, they see a blade sign that reads “UR Downtown” and a clock with a faint shadow of the UR’s spider mascot on the face. At the entrance, a sign that reads “Richmond on Broad Café” welcomes guests.
Inside, the environment invites conversation and comfortable relaxation. Hanging from the ceiling, wooden slats reflect the city’s ties to the train traffic that continuously passes through the Richmond community. As a salute to the university’s architectural style, the café features red brick walls and a gothic arch. Images of spiders, the university’s mascot, appear in the corners of the window slicks bearing the café’s name, and are also carved into the backs of the chairs.
Natural light penetrates the café through two walls of windows in the seating area. A triangular table serves as a meeting spot for small groups and fills what might otherwise have been an awkward corner.
The most prominent feature is a curved serving line that includes a bakery case; a refrigerated case with beverages, yogurt and sides; and cash registers in an order/pay area. “The serving line then curves behind a weight-bearing column, incorporating the wall into the design,” says Bettie Clarke, executive director of Campus Dining Services. “This is echoed by a curved wall opposite the counter area that divides the order/pay area from the seating area.”
Next on the curved line, staff prepare sandwiches. Behind glass partitions sits a round grill with a custom hood where a staff member cooks eggs for breakfast sandwiches such as Virginia ham, egg and white cheddar on a biscuit; applewood-smoked bacon, egg and provolone; and Korean BBQ beef and egg. Staff grill chicken breasts for lunch sandwiches and salads at this station. The grill also heats soups when staff are not grilling. An order pick-up counter separates the grill station from the salad case/salad prep area.
Equipment behind the cookline includes a salad-ingredient display with a refrigerated rail, a sandwich unit with a cutting board, soup wells and shelves holding bread selections. The equipment package also includes a high-speed, quick-bake oven, a cook-and-hold warming unit, a wall cabinet and a work counter with a sink. All this equipment allows the café menu to include sandwiches, such as smoked brisket and Gouda on a challah roll and chipotle barbecue pork, along with salads such as a beef brisket and blue cheese offering and a chopped Asian salad. An espresso machine with a small milk refrigerator sits nearby along with tea and coffee dispensers and an ice cart.