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April 14, 2006

Additional cafes are part of ISU Dining's five-year plan

by Anne Krapfl

Perhaps you heard.

ISU Dining staved off competitive proposals from three private companies in February to retain the job of providing food services to the campus community. A 22-member evaluation team recommended the ISU Dining proposal to vice presidents Tom Hill (student affairs) and Warren Madden (business and finance). They, in turn, recommended to President Gregory Geoffroy that ISU Dining keep the job, and he concurred.

Artist's sketches of ISU Dining's proposed
cafe and Starbucks in a renovated Hub on central campus. Artist's sketches of ISU Dining's proposed
cafe and Starbucks in a renovated Hub on central campus.

Artist's sketches of ISU Dining's proposed cafe and Starbucks in a renovated Hub on central campus. Submitted drawings.

The university is in the process of developing an operating memorandum of understanding with ISU Dining that, while internal, is similar to a contract that would have been done with a private food service firm. That memo should be completed by the end of the month. Another first item of business is to hire a new director for ISU Dining. Former director Jon Lewis resigned in September; associate vice president for student affairs Todd Holcomb has been serving as interim director. ISU Dining has hired a firm, Global Hospitality, Los Angeles, to assist with a national search. The goal is to name a new director by July 1.

So, just what was in ISU Dining's five-year proposal? Inside sat down with assistant director for residential dining Carol Petersen and interim assistant director for retail operations Kristi Patel to talk about ISU Dining's service plans for the next few years. (Renovation plans and new retail concepts were just one of a half dozen key areas the evaluation team reviewed.)

Building-specific plans will require partnerships and administrative approvals before they begin. With the exception of the Oak-Elm and Maple-Willow-Larch dining center proposals, which would require bonding approval, Petersen said ISU Dining can pay for the improvements from its operating budget. Here's a quick look at some of the ideas (roughly in the order ISU Dining hopes to implement them):

Bookends Cafe at Parks

Add Bookends Cafe in 184 Parks Library, adjacent to the Fireplace Room. It will serve specialty coffees and smoothies, bakery products and packaged sandwiches and salads.

Library dean Olivia Madison said Iowa State's library is in "a distinct minority of university research libraries to not have some sort of cafe or coffee counter." She said she supports the concept and sees clear benefits: it would help the library better manage food issues by providing a designated spot for people to be when they want to eat or drink, it provides informal space to sit and chat, and it responds to a desire by students and faculty to have a cafe in the building.

Renovated food court

Renovate the Memorial Union food court. The brand offerings would decrease from nine to five: keep Subway, Panda Express and Sunset Strips; remove the deli case; add a local or national burger brand to replace McDonald's; and add World Bistro, an ISU Dining venue that will offer wood-fired pizzas, salads, soups and a rotating selection of the most popular entrees from the four spots it replaces (Burrito Works, Hearthstone, Greek Odyssey Cafe and Tomassito's).

"We learned there were too many concepts in that space," Petersen said. "With five concepts, we think it can be more viable for the ones who are there."

Hub Cafe, Starbucks

Create the Hub Cafe and Starbucks in the Hub. It will serve Starbucks' full menu and a variety of grilled sandwiches, gyros, quesadillas and salads. The outdoor grill will continue to operate seasonally. The space will include cafe seating and soft seating.

Cyclone Alley at center parking

Add Cyclone Alley at the transit station in the Iowa State Center parking lot. Petersen said ISU Dining likely would partner with ISU Parking (and perhaps others) to replace vending machines in the building with a small staffed cafe that would offer coffee, fountain and bottled beverages, bakery products and a build-a-sack-meal option for commuters who use the lot. The proposal includes a drive-through service window.

New locale for MU cafe

Move (and combine) the MU Cafe and Onion's convenience store to new space adjacent to the University Book Store in a south addition to the Memorial Union.

Expanded Design Cafe

Expand the Design Cafe. With a building addition planned for the Design center, Petersen said ISU Dining is hopeful it could acquire additional space to be able to expand its menu. "We love our location. We'd like to remain in a high-traffic area of the building, but we'd like more space to meet the needs in that part of campus," she said. Hot entrees, vegan/vegetarian options, soups and panini sandwiches are some of the menu additions ISU Dining proposes in a larger Design Cafe.

More residence hall centers

Renovate the Oak-Elm and Maple-Willow-Larch cafeterias into "Marketplace" dining centers, similar to what's in place in the Union Drive Community Center. Each project would involve building additions, to both add dining space and create a public entry so the campus community would have easier access to them. The Oak-Elm renovation is a proposed $10.1 million project with seating for 560.

M-W-L is a proposed $11 million project that includes a new east campus market to replace the convenience store there and, potentially, a "training table" dining room for Cyclone student-athletes. If the latter feature is included, total seating capacity would be about 730.

ISU Dining proposes to use dormitory revenue bonds for the two projects, which would require ISU and regents approval.

"The Marketplace in UDCC has been successful at achieving more interaction between students and faculty," Petersen said, noting the marketplace concept is very popular with students. ISU Dining staff predicted large crowds when the UDCC opened, and had hoped to make the changes at Oak-Elm and M-W-L sooner, she said. Other residence department projects, such as the Buchanan Hall renovation, needed to be completed first, she said.

Petersen said the ideas in ISU Dining's proposal stem from surveys of and conversations with students, talks with dining staff at other universities and a review of trade publications to see what the fresh ideas are nationally.

"We feel we know the campus better than anyone, and we know what people want," Petersen said. "This process gave us a chance to evaluate all we do, and also to propose some things we have wanted to do for some time."

Absent from the ISU Dining proposal was a plan for the Maintenance Shop in the Memorial Union. ISU Dining closed its food program there last year because it was losing money.

"Students are telling us it's more important to them to keep that as a shows venue," Petersen said. "Because of that, and some accessibility issues, we decided not to propose a food concept for the M-Shop."

Further than five years out, Petersen said Gilman and Kildee halls are other locations ISU Dining is studying for future cafes.


"The Marketplace in UDCC has been successful at achieving more interaction between students and faculty."

Carol Petersen