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Developing New Dining Facilities
“Sometimes it’s better for us foodies to experience things: to touch, feel and of course taste rather than just look at pictures,” Levandowski explains. The group's observations were combined with market research data from the campus community to arrive at a vision of both residential and retail dining on the ISU campus.
The two renovated dining centers opened in back to back years: the newly renamed Seasons Marketplace debuted in fall 2009 by Bethany Landon and her team sporting a smoked meats station, a wood grill, an international station and an Italian station with a stone hearth oven among its prominent features.
Conversations Dining followed a year later with a New York style deli, a high-end grill and a cook-to-order specialty food station called Creations that offers everything from sweet and savory crepes and quesadillas to chipotle pulled pork and gourmet mac and cheese.
The expanded, fresh-food-oriented venues also helped boost the school’s chef staffing from two to eight and contributed to a major expansion in local product purchasing, which swelled from around $30,000 to over $1.2 million today.
Attention to the Retails
The renovated residential dining halls certainly helped sell more voluntary meal plans, but ISU’s explosion of revenues in the past six years was turbocharged by the growth in retail sales. That was driven by substantial investments in new and modernized retail facilities placed at key intercept points around campus, and also by a revamped meal plan that added a meal bundle component incorporating purchases at retail outlets (see sidebar at right).
The centerpiece of retail foodservice on the ISU campus has traditionally been the food court in the Memorial Union, with its mix of largely nationally branded concepts (Subway, Panda Express, Sunset Strips), along with the popular Fresh Burrito Works make-you-own-burrito/quesadilla station. One of Levandowski’s first retail renovations following her arrival with Retail Director Kristi Patel targeted this high-traffic venue by adding two in-house concepts to the mix—Cys & Fries, offering made to order fresh never frozen quarter-pound Angus beef burgers, and World Bistro, featuring a revolving menu of international cuisine choices.
The new, expanded Union food court debuted in fall 2007 and was followed a year later in the same complex by a new combined MU Market & Café. This replaced older separate café and c-store outlets and was placed in a new 2,000-sq.ft. space next to the bookstore in a new wing of the Union building. It offers a mix of specialty hot and cold beverages, smoothies, sweets, grab-and-go salads/sandwiches/sides and a variety of organic and international convenience foods ranging from snacks to frozen meals.
Together, the Memorial Union food court and Market/Café under Brian Reichert now generate over $3.2 million in annual sales, almost double the $1.7 million generated by the Memorial Union operations in fiscal 2007. The food court alone accounts for almost $2.5 million (versus $1.2 million in 2007).