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Highlights

Facility Design Project of the Month-May 2011 Center for Community at the University of Colorado at Boulder

Supported by a bakery and central commissary, this market-style dining concept features authentically themed micro-restaurants that contribute to the community-oriented environment created in this unique center.

fes1105_fac_Persian
Persia is one of the most popular micro-restaurants, with its colorful tiles and authentic menu offerings prepared on kebab grills and and brick oven. Photos courtesy of Bakergroup

Situated at the base of the Flatirons rock formations, the Center for Community (C4C) opened it doors at the University of Colorado at Boulder at the beginning of the 2010 fall semester. A 960-seat marketplace-style dining facility anchors the $84.4 million facility, which spans 323,000 gross square feet and includes 400 parking spaces. C4C's vast foodservice operation features 10 themed, specialty-dining micro-restaurants, a support kitchen and outdoor seating for 200 people. Built to attract increasingly diverse and sophisticated customers, this 53,000-square-foot dining commons serves approximately 5,400 meals per day or nearly 1.1 million meals per year (projected).

"This dining center brings a new cultural dining experience to the Colorado University at Boulder campus and helps build a strong sense of community because this is something everyone can share and learn from," says Amy Beckstrom, director of dining services. "We like to say that our new motto is 'redefining dining.' With the addition of kosher and halal foods, as well as an increased focus on vegan, vegetarian and food for those with allergies, our customers know they can dine in a place where they have options. This has brought a whole new customer base to our dining center."

"The micro-restaurant concept breaks the paradigm of the more than decade-old marketplace concept," says the project's foodservice and hospitality design consultant, James Sukenik of Bakergroup Foodservice and Hospitality Consultants. "There are great benefits to developing unique identities for each food concept, where each micro-restaurant has its own aesthetic menu and identity. The micro-restaurant approach provides the best combination of variety and experience for students. In the distant future, when a particular micro-restaurant isn't performing or has lost its appeal, the university can easily limit its renovation needs to a single micro-restaurant and not be compelled to reinvent or renovate the entire facility."

Sukenik credits associate, Mona Milius, of Bakergroup Foodservice and Hospitality Consultants, for creating micro-restaurants that were conceived to be as authentic as possible. "The design and culinary team had a great time going through the research necessary to make certain they understood both the challenges and also the opportunities they were facing with authentic concepts," he says. "Particular attention was paid to artfully compressing more expansive restaurant concepts into smaller footprints than would typically be required for a freestanding restaurant.

 

Center-for-Community006
Customers can opt to sit in the sushi seating area (here and below) with its light blue aquatic color scheme and water wall. 
"As part of that planning, sight lines were created that place the micro-restaurant concepts and equipment so customers feel like they are in a restaurant, not a traditional, institutionally oriented facility," Sukenik continues. "Even simple elements like hand sinks were located so customers don't see them and therefore aren't reminded of anything institutional in their experience. In the end, we know we succeed when customers feel they are actually going out to eat."

 

Other aspects of the foodservice operation include: WeatherTech Café, a late-night operation that stays open until 2 a.m., is expected to bring in $550,000 this year; a retail bakery projected to generate $150,000; and a 2,000-square-foot grab-and-go meal plan venue.

Also included in the C4C are a commissary that contains cook-chill and other equipment, and 12 student support offices. Compared to other university buildings of a similar size, the C4C will be 20 percent to 25 percent more energy and water efficient.

"By consolidating production to one site, instead of operating and maintaining multiple facilities, the campus is able to control production costs and provide more venues designed to support the needs of a diverse campus population," says Phil Simpson, assistant director of CU at Boulder's facilities planning office.

Each day one-third of the campus population passes through and around this new facility, which is strategically located on a busy thoroughfare between the university's residential and academic neighborhoods, explain Jim Childress, partner at Centerbrook Architects in Essex, Conn., and Curtis Cox, project manager, Davis Partnership Architects in Denver, Colo. "The new Center for Community was designed to live up to its name by being a welcoming, intimate, friendly 'home away from home' for students on a diverse campus of more than 30,000 people," Cox says.

The dining center was an instant hit with the campus population, drawing an average of 6,400 customers per day. "When we first opened we were surprised at the participation, and that first day will be memorable forever," Beckstrom says. "Now it's back to what we expected, at about 5,400 daily. We can handle about 1,000 more and continue to bring in outside groups from elementary schools, retirement communities and the chamber of commerce."

Customer satisfaction scores are soaring and, as Beckstrom says, "are even higher than we were hoping to accomplish. Having a sense of community is important to everyone on campus, and especially freshmen and sophomores who need a convenient location where they can meet with friends and like-minded individuals."

The satisfaction is due to a combination of factors, from the interior design to the emphasis placed on food diversity and quality.

The "Wow" Factor
A "wow wall" greets customers as they enter the dining facility. Developed under the direction of Janice Torkildsen, manager of dining marketing and customer experience, the wall contains 16 individual video screens that come together to create one giant horizontal unit that displays videos and still pictures combined with words to convey educational messages and university-related news. The name "wow wall" was first used to convey a vision of the desired experience for people entering the facility, but it stuck when staff realized that the first thing customers say when they see it is "Wow!"

Menu boarding and signage in the entrance area direct customers to the many micro-restaurants. "We worked to create an experience and a destination marketplace," Beckstrom says.

"Early in the process we focused on not simply creating concepts but also the need to comfortably accommodate large groups of customers arriving simultaneously," Sukenik says. "We provided a lot of space for circulation in a manner that doesn't encumber those moving within the spaces, which is the magic of this approach. We created pathways, or 'streets,' that vary in width depending on what is occurring on that thoroughfare. Venues that were identified as busy, such as the Persian concept, are located on a main street. Micro-restaurants that represent scaled solutions or smaller elements are located on side streets."

When entering the dining facility, customers can see some of the micro-restaurants but not the entire dining environment. They must walk into the interior space to see each individual venue. Each dining destination also contains its own electronic menu board and graphic elements.

"Most of the stations are on a two-week menu cycle," says Kerry Paterson, executive chef. "The menu is in continuous development. What's so great is that, as time goes on, students learn that they can be creative, and mix and match foods from various stations."

"We're supporting various dietary needs and preferences and make sure we have labeling for allergens, kosher and halal foods," Beckstrom adds.

All stations have their own menus but are self-contained with refrigeration so food can be stored here for an entire meal period. "This way food stays fresh all day for preparation," says Juergen Friese, coordinator for facilities and equipment.

A marketplace has typically been a service approach that often is shy about supporting the staff with enough equipment at each venue, Sukenik adds. "This facility raises the standard of staff and customer convenience with storage that allows these venues to be self-contained during peak periods."

The open concept challenged chefs because they had to elevate their skills in order to provide theater-like production. "We have fantastic venues and have to match the culinarians' performances so the two merge appropriately and make a positive impact," Beckstrom says.

Micro-Restaurants

All the micro-restaurants in the dining center feature a variety of authentic food and décor. They are equipped with ample refrigeration, counter space and hot and cold wells to keep food fresh throughout each meal period.

Below is a brief overview of each of the 10 micro-restaurants that make C4C so unique and the foodservice equipment used to prepare their individual menus.

  • Italian Cibo contains a brick-covered deck oven for making pizza, ranges with ovens for making sauces, and many hot and cold wells for displaying myriad menu items. Customers can build their own pasta bowls with freshly made organic pasta that staff makes using a pasta cooker in the station and a pasta machine, cutter and dryer located a few feet adjacent to the main station.
  • Latin Comida is arranged so staff can use a tortilla-making machine to entertain guests while they make wraps with various fillings with a fiesta of flavors showcasing traditional fare from the Americas. The station also features made-to-order burritos and regional dishes. A griddle, a range, fryers, a combi oven, rice cookers, and myriad serving wells for displaying dishes support the menu here.
  • Asian Shi Pin offers display cooking by chefs who mix flavors from the Near and Far East in a wok to create stir-fry dishes. The station also contains a heavy-duty, thick-gauge stainless steel range with firers (which it shares with the Black Coats micro-restaurant), a rice cooker, a wok range and chafers to hold various regional ethnic rice and noodle dishes with assorted dipping sauces.
  • Persian Ghaza, one of the most popular areas, serves handmade kebab "swords" prepared on a kebab grill, rice in the rice cookers and a stone oven for freshly baked flatbreads and side dishes. Flatbreads are presented on a bar with dips, spreads and stews.
  • Sushi contains hand-rolled sushi, and vegetable, meat and seafood rolls. Refrigerated rails and counters allow staff to prepare the sushi under safe, sanitary conditions.
  • Smoke 'n Grill contains an in-house smoker used to make smoked mahi-mahi and spareribs. The smoker tops Friese and Paterson's list of favorite pieces of equipment. "We have versatility to do our own smoked pork, ribs, fish, briskets, and chicken," Paterson says. The station also features a rotisserie oven to make chicken, vegetables, pork loins and, in the future, salmon sides; a charbroiler for burgers, hot dogs and brats; and a churrasco grill for smaller cuts of beef, vegetables and lamb. A staff member carves the daily featured item, such as beef brisket, at a designated station. Hot and cold wells hold barbecued dishes and other comfort foods from which customers help themselves.
  • Kosher, following the laws of kashrut, offers a variety of daily menu items, prepared on site under the supervision of a mashgiach, and presented in wells and served by staff.
  • Black Coats (named as such because the culinary staff wear black chef coats) is equipped with an oven beneath a range, a combi oven, the heavy-duty range (which it shares with Asian Shi Pin), a flattop, a steam kettle, and many hot and cold wells for showcasing culinary talent. The chefs performing here prepare small-bite-plates based on the culinary expertise of the staff.
  • Wholesome Field comprises more than 60 linear feet of display counters with refrigerated and ambient wells for displaying fresh fruits, vegetables, salads, soups and a deli bar.
  • Desserts feature fresh-baked cakes, pies and other baked goods and an ice cream sundae bar. Staff use crepe irons, an ice cream scooping cabinet, a convection oven and countertop mixer to create sweet delectables throughout the day.

C4C also features other key foodservice stations:

  • CU on the Run presents grab-and-go sandwiches, salads and desserts in display cases.
  • Five beverage stations offer a selection of cold and hot drinks. Friese notes that centralized storage for the bulk CO2 system is particularly useful and efficient.
  • The Bakery holds equipment to make specialty coffees and teas, and display pastries, muffins and artisanal breads.
  • WeatherTech Café, located on the lower level, features brick-oven pizza with organic toppings, made-to-order salads and sandwiches, smoothies, and gelato.
  • Supporting equipment in adjacent production areas includes convection ovens, kettles and ranges.

A Central Location for Dishwashing

Positioning the dish drop-off and dishroom centrally in the facility provides another element of efficiency. "We were fortunate to be working with a great design team that allowed us to control the location of all of the foodservice components," Sukenik says.

Customers travel directly to the dish-drop on pathways connecting the five distinct dining areas. The customer dish-drop is located along one edge of the marketplace "square," the four-story atrium in the center of the marketplace.

A large accumulator moves dishes from the customer drop-off point to the dishwashing area. "The accumulator creates reductions in labor and energy by accumulating dishes at the beginning and end of the meal-period rush," Sukenik says. "Had we used a traditional conveyor, those dishes would have needed to be scraped immediately to keep up with demand. In the C4C setup, at the beginning and end of the meal periods, the dish machine can be shut down, while the accumulator continues to provide a place for customers to drop off their dishes."

"The very long tray accumulator that moves to the back of the house has a full drop-in ceiling for sound control, so there's no noise pollution coming from this area into the dining rooms," Friese says.

The dish-drop is accessed on two sides—in little niche spaces with low-level lighting at the customer dish-drop—to avoid an institutional appearance. Staff-side lighting is much brighter. Other notable benefits of this dishwashing location, Sukenik says, are its connection to the kitchen (for pots and pans) and its proximity to the pulper (located directly below). "In addition, staff working in the dishwashing area have amazing window views of the Flatirons, which are possibly the best in the facility," he adds.

All of the dishroom scraping waste goes to a pulper, where it is pumped to a water extractor located at the lower-level dock. Once the water has been extracted and efficiently recirculated back to the dishroom, the waste — now reduced to less than 15 percent of its original volume — is automatically deposited in a trash bin located outside of the building. "This design eliminates the need to move scraping waste from the dishroom, reduces its volume and recirculates the water. An efficient, steam-heated dish machine completes the plan," Sukenik says.

The dish machine tanks were designed to be six inches higher than standard, so full-size sheet pans can be cleaned in the dish machine, thereby reducing the amount of water and labor required for cleaning.

Flexibility Leads to Efficiency
In order to maximize efficiency, some stations are closed during off-peak periods. For example, breakfast is available from 7 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. at such stations as the salad bar, which presents fresh fruits, yogurt and jellies; and a cereal area with dispensers, bagel slicers and toasters. The Black Coats station, which is very popular, serves omelets to order. The dessert station serves freshly baked breakfast pastries.

At 11 a.m. all stations are open; from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. six stations are open. All stations are again open from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. This flexibility allows staffing to be reduced during off-peak periods by 25 percent to 30 percent for that three-hour time span.

"Juergen and Kerry gave a very thorough review of the kitchen and equipment during the design process and were determined to get what they needed," Beckstrom says. "Of course, there are always a few regrets, but overall the operation works very, very well."

Friese and Paterson's wish list for the future includes more hot/cold wells in order to provide more menu versatility. They would also like to have a larger area for kosher food preparation.

C4C continues to attract customers who are delighted with the options and ambiance. The decor, food selections and equipment bring authenticity to the micro-restaurants. The staff's ability to adapt these restaurants to the changing tastes of their customers both supports and contributes to building community.


Design Capsule

Anchored by a street-market-style dining hall, the Center for Community opened in the fall of 2010. The center also houses a bakery and commissary with a cook-chill operation, and 12 student support offices. The $84.4 million facility includes 323,000 gross square feet and more than 400 parking spaces. It was financed through bonds and will be repaid through auxiliary revenue and private donations. Neither tax dollars or tuition were used for C4C construction, nor was there a net increase in room and board rates because the student services offices in residence halls were converted back to housing for students. The foodservice includes the main dining area, featuring 10 specialty-theme food stations; CU on the Run, a grab-and-go café; a retail bakery; and a late-night destination, the WeatherTech Café, open until 2 a.m. The dining hall serves an average of 5,400 meals per day and more than 1.1 million per year (projected). The operation can easily accommodate 1,000 more customers each day. The operation (except the retail venues) is an all-you-care-to-eat plan. The facility provides 960 indoor seats and 200 outdoor seats. The dining center's operating hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Staffing includes six managers, 80 FTEs and up to 200 students. "New" foodservice revenue as a result of this dining center has increased 128 percent. The equipment cost was $6 million.

  • Website: http://housing.colorado.edu/dining/locations-hours/center-community-dining
  • Owner: University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Director of Dining Services: Amy Beckstrom
  • Coordinator for Facilities and Equipment: Juergen Friese
  • Executive Chef: Kerry Paterson, CEC
  • Marketing and Customer Experience Manager: Janice Torkildsen
  • General Manager, C4C Dining Operations: Matt Bratton
  • Architects: Centerbrook Architects, Essex, Conn., Jim Childress, partner; and Davis Partnership Architects, Denver, Colo., Curtis Cox, project manager
  • Foodservice Design Consultants: Bakergroup Foodservice and Hospitality Consultants; Jim Sukenik, FCSI, president and principal; Mona Milius, MBA, senior principal
  • Construction: Saunders Construction, Inc., Centennial, Colo.
  • Foodservice Dealer: Duray/J. F. Duncan Industries, Littleton, Colo., office

Read about the Sustainable Features

Read about The Bakery

Read about the Commissary


 

Staff use woks to prepare many of the Asian menu choices, which are presented in contemporary arrangements at the serving counters.
The atrium rises four stories in the air and allows natural light into the vast space.
Fresh baked goods are available in the retail bakery.
The Colorado mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for C4C. Customers and staff working in kitchen areas and the central commissary have views of the outside.
Customers can opt to sit in the sushi seating area (here and below) with its light blue aquatic color scheme and water wall.
One of the dining rooms, Colorado Room, provides a variety of seating options. The ceiling beams' natural colors and placement create a comfortable ambiance for dining.
Customers select salad ingredients at both sides of the salad station.
Equipment in the commissary includes a convection oven, four-burner range, two steam kettles and a steamer.
A designated station offers supervised kosher foods from cold and hot wells.
Pasta is made in house with a dough maker, cutter and dryer so the dishes are always fresh.
Persia is one of the most popular micro-restaurants, with its colorful tiles and authentic menu offerings prepared on kebab grills and and brick oven.
Customers select salad ingredients at both sides of the salad station.
At the Smoke 'n Grill station, chargrills, a churrasco and a smoker support staff in providing a variety of burgers and barbecued items.
Customers can opt to sit in the sushi seating area with its light blue aquatic color scheme and water wall.
WeatherTech Café on the lower level offers casual fare and stays open until 2 a.m.
Staff use woks to prepare many of the Asian menu choices, which are presented in contemporary arrangements at the serving counters.Photo courtesy of Bakergroup.

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