Eagle's Nido Sunflower Productions

Big changes come to dining at Eastern Michigan University

A new deal with Chartwells has already paid dividends in two completely new concepts and a number of rebrands.

Eastern Michigan University (EMU) enrolls more than 20,000 students, of whom only about 3,000 live in on-campus dorms and another thousand in university apartments. That ratio means there’s a major emphasis on retail dining to satisfy the commuter-heavy student population, and that is where much of the focus was put this school year, the first under a recently signed 10-year contract with Chartwells Higher Education.

Among the additions Chartwells put in this past summer were new Smashburger and Mondo Sub units in the school’s student center, the popular commercial brands replacing Wendy’s and Subway stations that had been in the venue for a number of years, “and [which] were definitely in need of a refresh,” says Chris Yeadon, director of dining services with Chartwells.

In addition to Smashburger and Mondo Subs, Chartwells implemented a number of station rebrands that have given many existing concepts a new look and feel with the incorporation of the contract company’s proprietary brands such as the Middle Eastern-themed Za’tar and the Southwest-themed Sono.

A custom concept called Eagle’s Nido (“nido” means nest in Italian and the eagle is the EMU mascot) refreshed an existing bistro unit with a healthy Italian menu featuring made-to-order salads, pizza and various vegetarian/vegan selections.

On tap for this spring is the replacement of the campus’s “We Proudly Serve” Starbucks unit with a full licensed unit as part of the Phase 2 upgrading of the student center’s concept mix, most of which is scheduled to be implemented this summer. It will have twice the square footage of the existing one and will feature the chain’s full menu.

“It’s being moved to an area of the student center that is being repurposed and it will be a real showcase Starbucks,” Yeadon says, adding that the original student center Starbucks space will be converted to a c-store.

That Phase 2 student center project will also refurbish the Za’tar, Sono and Eagle’s Nido units in a more substantial way than was possible in the short time window available last summer, when there was little time for much more than replacing signage and menu boards.

The project will change the whole feel of the student center’s dining area.

“We’re going for a streetscape concept with actual patios inside the building,” Yeadon explains. “So, for example, if you’re sitting at the patio at Smashburger, you’re in the food court of the student center and we’re going to continue that streetscape look and feel in Phase 2 to complete the whole project.”

Previous to the major Phase 2 work, plans call for a new Chick-fil-A unit in McKenny Hall, slated for opening sometime in the spring of 2017.

“It’s very exciting because Chick-fil-A hasn’t really penetrated the Michigan market,” Yeadon observes. “There are really very few up here, so people are very excited about it because you really have to drive quite a distance” to get to one currently.

Other planned projects slated for opening for or during the 2017-2018 school year, Yeadon says, include a refreshed Einsteins/Caribou unit and a yet-to-be-named “anchor brand” in a newly constructed “shell” that will be attached to a prominent building in the middle of campus.

EMU operates three residential dining facilities, one a traditional all-you-care-to-eat venue and the others “have a retail look and feel to them,” Yeadon says, “but 90 to 95 percent of the business is board students because they are located in portions of the campus that don’t have a lot of [commuter] traffic.”

Upgrades and/or refreshes to these will be part of Phase 3, slated for the 2018-2019 school year, but what they will be has yet to be determined, though Yeadon says they will include a new resident dining platform of some sort.

The reaction on campus to all the changes to date has been “real positive,” Yeadon says. “The clients are very happy. It’s been a real smooth transition.”

The changes did not affect campus dining prices or existing meal plan options.

“Price increases for the 2016-17 school year were already approved [before the Chartwells contract was signed] so when we came in we adopted that pricing structure,” Yeadon explains. “Whatever pricing increases EMU had already decided on, we adopted those.”

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