At lunchtime on the University of Northern Colorado campus, students and staff tuck into poutine burgers, Southern fried chicken sandwiches and a slew of other loaded options at the campus food court.
Burger & Co. is an original concept that sits at the end of the campus food court in the campus’s remodeled University Center. After customers order, they can take a seat at a table and watch a game on one of 12 flat-screen TVs or, if the weather’s nice, walk out through garage-style, open-air doors and find a spot on the patio.
The concept is, according to UNCO, the “favored dining destination on campus,” with a full restaurant menu, high-top and booth-style seating, and even a special events stage. Open mic nights, bingo, trivia, and presentations by campus jazz and performing arts groups help draw people in.
When the school embarked on a remodel of the University Center, they decided to do something big and different for the food court’s centerpiece concept. Meagan Johnson, director of dining services, says their team planned, at first, to implement something from Sodexo’s playbook.
“Sodexo corporate has some terrific concepts in their repertoire and we looked at some,” she says, “but they didn’t quite fit the demographic that we had here at the University of Northern Colorado. And so we went to the drawing board and came up with a new concept around specialized burgers and chicken sandwiches, more of a sports bar-type location here on campus.”
The menu is chock-full of flavor bombs. There are seven beef burgers, two meatless burgers, seven signature sandwiches, four breakfast sandwiches and more. Rotating limited-time offerings mix things up.
Plain burgers are on the menu but most of the options are loaded with extras, like the Colorado Burger, with achiote seasoning, a fried egg, caramelized onion, a fried tortilla strip, green chili and chihuahua cheese or the Beefed-Up BBQ Bear, that comes with hickory pulled pork, pickled onion, barbecue sauce and cheddar. If that’s not enough, though, customers can choose from a list of add-ons, like thick-cut bacon or grilled onions. Sides include traditional or sweet potato fries, beer-battered onion rings, fried mushrooms, jalapeno poppers, cheese curds, buffalo cauliflower bites and fried pickle chips. Seven sauces round out the options and a spicing station gives customers a chance to personalize their plates.
They also serve draft, tap and canned beers, hard seltzer, wine and a couple of mixed drinks. To source the beer, they partner with the Brewing Laboratory Science Program on campus and local breweries. Since it’s a mixed-ages setting, they ask for identification when someone orders alcohol and stamp their hand to make sure no one underage is served.
A dessert menu includes a collection of seven flavors of Stubborn Soda, PepsiCo’s craft soda line, and ice cream floats.
Chef Mitchell Wilkins and Ryan Virgil, an operations manager “worked hand-in-hand with the university on creating a menu that made sense.” They reached out to student groups to find out what people wanted and changed their initial menu once they received more feedback.
It sounds like they know their audience. The venue, which opened in the spring of 2023, has become a popular destination for students, faculty and staff. UNCO reports that they’ve doubled their dining offerings on campus and that Burger & Co. sales account for the vast majority of total revenue.
The University Center also houses Einstein Brothers Bagels, Subway, Munchy Mart and Hissho Sushi. Three new concepts were added at the same time as Burger & Co.: Crisol Latin Kitchen, a build-you-own concept; Empire State Pizza, a local distributor; and Bowlful, a clean-eating concept. Customers pay for food directly. Students can also opt to use weekly meal swipes at Burger & Co. and the other new concepts on certain items, which are indicated on the menus.
To keep things interesting, Burger & Co. change the menu every semester based on student feedback. That flexibility is what Johnson thinks will make the difference.
"Lots of restaurants, unfortunately, get stuck in not being able to change quickly when trends change. I think that we have that ability at this location to change what we need to change...and make sure we can keep [students] happy and keep them coming in.”
She says they’re proud of the work they’ve done and of the food they create every day. But they’re mostly excited that students want to be there.
"The revitalization of the University Center has brought new life to that building and truly made it a space where our students can congregate in a comfortable setting and be themselves.”