In the arms race to develop the most attractive amenities to draw students to their campuses, Florida State University (FSU) fired the latest salvo with the debut of Azalea Hall. The six-story structure includes plush residential suites that will accommodate 433 students on its top five floors, while underneath them on the ground floor lies a 24,000-square-foot dining area called 1851 that is overlooked by spacious lounging areas with stuffed chairs and sofas. The dining locations and surrounding communal areas have seating for about 450.
“What we’ve tried to do with 1851 is to get away from a more transactional environment where you just pay for food and eat, to more of a relation-based environment where students can either hang out or eat, and one that they can relate to better,” explains Charles T. Friedrich II, FSU’s director of business services. “So instead of just having a large food court, we put in four micro-restaurants and a convenience store wrapped around a downtown alley-themed venue with outside seating, a second-floor mezzanine and even some Romeo and Juliet balconies that hang over the central alley area.”
The micro-restaurants and c-store concepts were created especially for this venue by Sodexo Campus Services, which took over management of dining operations at FSU earlier this year in a $173 million deal. And unlike most dining venues that traditionally were built inside campus residential structures, 1851 is a retail, not all-you-care-to-eat, operation.
The reason for that is that the school already has two full-time all-you-care-to-eat venues, the Seminole Café and the Suwannee Room that “are already well used and well utilized,” Friedrich notes. “We felt that the environment students want to experience and what they’re used to when they come from their homes to the campus is more around a micro-restaurant environment.”
Of course, students living in and around Azalea can still go to one of the all-you-care-to-eat locations or to one of the other retail outlets on campus, including national branded concepts like Chick-fil-A and Einstein’s Bagels.
Meanwhile, students from other parts of campus are also free—in fact, they are encouraged—to patronize 1851 which, like the other campus retail dining outlets, accepts meal equivalencies that are a part of the standard FSU meal plan.
“We want to invite them as well as faculty and staff and people walking by,” Friedrich offers. “It’s open to the public and we want to have as many people in there enjoying the facility as we can.”
“We’re right across from Sorority Row, so we also expect a lot of traffic from the houses across the street,” adds Jay DeGioia, Sodexo’s district manager at FSU.
Expectations are that business at 1851 will be robust across most of the day. One of the four micro-restaurants, Noles Homecoming, opens for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on weekdays (10:30 a.m. on weekends) while the other three venues open at 10:30 a.m. and all four stay open until 10 p.m. (7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). The c-store, called the Canteen, is open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to midnight and serves hot food to give students a late-evening dining alternative.
“Of course, we know it’s going to be a dinner destination because of how close it is to housing,” DeGioia observes, but he notes that 1851 is also sited at a convenient intercept location near bus stops and parking areas where many of FSU’s 50,000 students, over 40,000 of whom don’t live on campus, must pass each day. That promises robust mid-day and even morning traffic.
“We think volume is not going to be an issue,” he predicts. “We’re putting everything together to be able to serve really, really good food quickly.”
In fact, when Sodexo took over dining at FSU this past May, it determined that the campus actually didn’t have enough retail dining outlets to serve such a large student body. Hence, 1851 is an addition to the retail mix that is expected to add incremental new business due to its location, attractive offerings and novelty.
Noles Homecoming incorporates a large carving station where whole rotisserie hens, smoked pork, roasted beef and whole fish are rotated daily. There’s also a signature fried chicken available every day, comfort food type sides like hush puppies, mac and cheese, Southern-style slaw and collard greens grown some 30 miles from campus. A smoker located behind the serving area dispenses various smoked meats for the menu and delicious aromas for the atmosphere.
A production kitchen behind Noles Homecoming processes ingredients, produces components and does preprep for each of the micro-restaurants. A portion of the ingredients are sourced from local farms and fisheries.
The Canteen c-store has a nosh bar area where students can get hot food items like hot dogs with toppings, nachos and even pasta dishes, as well as grab and go if they’re in a hurry. All the restaurant concepts give customers a choice of eating in on plates or having their purchases packaged for takeout.
“As a chef, I was really excited about the spaces and the equipment and what we could do,” notes Dave Mudge, who serves as executive chef for 1851 Dining and is responsible for putting together the cuisine mix for the four concepts. “I just put together the menus for homecoming We’ll have a lot of great fresh produce from farms in the area and seafood like grouper, salmon and tilapia.”
Azalea Hall is one of a group of four recently constructed residential structures that adjoin and collectively house more than 900 students, with 1851 serving as the common dining venue, though students living there are free to patronize any other campus dining facilities as well.
While the Azalea residential complex opened in June to house summer school students, the 1851 dining center only opened to the public Aug. 28 with the beginning of the fall term. Also opening this school year adjacent to Azalea is Magnolia Hall, which houses 479 students. They join two other residential facilities, Deviney and Doman, which opened in 2015, in a single residential cluster. Azalea will be the only one with in-house dining.
“I’m excited about this location and how it will transform our campus dining experience and contribute to overall student success,” notes Kyle Clark, vice president for finance and administration. “Florida State University understands food and dining is critical to student success.”