Dining at the University of Rochester in New York got more of an in-house and local flavor this fall thanks to the conversion of two food stations in the university’s Wilson Commons student union facility from national branded concepts to ones developed in-house. In one location, the existing Blimpie’s sandwich concept was replaced by Rocky’s Sub Shop, while the Panda Express Asian food station became Wok on Up.
“One of the most important things to us is buying locally and being able to make decisions over the specifications of each individual item,” explains Cameron Schauf, director of campus dining services and auxiliary operations. “Because of the relationship with any national brand, oftentimes your hands are tied on making those decisions [and] there were decisions we wanted to make because of directions we wanted to go in that are easier to do when you own the brand yourself.”
In addition, Schauf cites student comments on what they wanted from the stations: “There were certain things we felt we could do better and quicker if we were using our own brand,” he says.
Schauf says the dining department started talking to students about the possible changes in the middle of last school year “and got lots of positive feedback on the direction we were going in, a lot of student input on the kinds of things they were looking for.”
Opened in late August, both locations are seeing “good traffic,” Schauf says, especially at Rocky’s. Financially, “we’re spending a little more on some items we’re specifying but without having to pay commission, all that’s a wash. Right now, worst case scenario, we’re seeing no extra expense and no extra cost to our customers, but we also believe that by the time the year’s over, we’ll see financially an increase in our bottom line in both of those locations.”
He says both stations have operated pretty much as expected with no real tweaks or adjustments necessary since they opened.
One popular aspect of the changes so far has been the freshly made breads used at Rocky’s, which are sourced locally and baked off every morning.
Rocky’s offers either customized sandwiches with a variety of meat, cheese, bread, dressing, sauce and topping choices, or one of the signature subs like meatball, Italian assorted or the Mel Melt, featuring the school’s own Mel’s Sauce.
Wok on Up offers a more expansive Asian menu than Panda Express, and with more premium ingredients. Students can customize their meals with a selection of entrees such as orange or kung pao chicken, beef and broccoli stir-fry and Korean black pepper beef.
Also new this fall is a concept called OptiKale opened in the university’s optics and bio medical engineering building. A gluten-free bowl concept, it offers a health-focused menu featuring made-to-order salads and bowls filled with fresh produce, grains, bone broths and proteins. It replaced a coffee shop that offered a limited grab-and-go menu
With the conversions of Blimpie’s and Panda Express to in-house brands, the dining array at the University of Rochester is now composed primarily of the school’s own concepts with the exception of coffee concepts Starbucks and Peet’s and smoothie concept Freshens.