McShane Campus Center's Marketplace cafeteria, Fordham University's main dining hall, is undergoing a 10-month gut renovation. A new Destination Dining program is keeping students fed in the meantime.
The cafeteria, which first opened in 1958, had undergone a handful of cosmetic renovations over the years. This time the facility is being stripped down and rebuilt from the beams up. "You don't get these kinds of opportunities often and we wanted to make a statement. But we couldn't compress the work to a short period of time," says Deming Yaun, Fordham's university dining contract liaison.
Fordham originally planned to build a new, temporary facility to provide the 18,000 weekly meals normally provided by the Marketplace cafeteria, but the plan grew overly complex and costly. "So the idea came up, why don't we just open multiple locations? We could close the larger one and open up several smaller ones, each with a uniqueness of their own, that would be destinations on their own," Yaun explains.
That's how Destination Dining was born. The program expands Fordham's current dining facilities, which are run by Aramark, while adding eight brand new ones, bringing the total number of options to 14. All of the locations offer gluten-free, allergy-friendly, and vegan and vegetarian options. Opening multiple smaller spots was more cost-effective than building a large, temporary dining location replacement.
The new dining destinations include Bronx Bagel Company, BKG Roasters (a coffee concept), and Sambazon Acai Bowls and Smoothies. There's also CHOMP, a 30-foot-tall food truck with options like grilled cheese, poke, gyros, egg sandwiches, and donuts, which will shuttle between three locations on campus. A three-wheeled Bronxie Bike will ride around campus with snacks too. There are also two electric food carts, called Ram Roadegas.
Fordham also opened two additional all-you-care-to-eat facilities, one on the second floor of the McShane center and another at the nearby Bepler Commons. The former seats 486 and the latter seats an additional 96 indoors and 192 outdoors in an adjacent tent. Both feature hot and cold stations with options like omelets, pasta, grilled items, and a salad bar. "The station equipment we're utilizing for these locations will go on to another life," Deming says. "They can be used for catering or other events for years to come."
The new facilities opened one at a time over the first half of the fall semester. The Marketplace cafeteria stayed open until the last new facility opened on October 10th. The piecemeal rollout was partially a matter of logistics. "The idea came to fruition last January and we couldn't necessarily get them together all at once," Deming says.
But the one-by-one approach also proved more palatable to students. "It minimized student angst," Deming says. "Rather than students facing a full menu of multiple new locations, each new location could be communicated on its own. It helped keep students relaxed and allowed them to focus on what they should be focusing on."
In fact, the plan got the approval of student ambassadors, student government, and student food committees last February, just as Campus Dining was getting the ball rolling. "When everyone echoed the same response we began to get a lot of confidence that this would be something exciting," Deming says.
The slow rollout helped boost interest too. "There was excitement about each one opening, and every location got to capture their own market segment," says Deming. That proved an important opportunity to increase participation. "The goal was, maybe we could sell more meal plans and get more commuter-based customers and drive sales, as opposed to limping along without sales for the next year," he adds.
With the exception of the two temporary all-you-care-to-eat facilities, the new locations will stick around even after the new Marketplace cafeteria opens next year. "We're not billing it as a temporary thing. It's a unique year of dining at Fordham with dining experiences of its own," Deming says.
So far customers have been enthusiastic about the new options. During the first week where all of the new facilities were up and running and the old cafeteria had closed, "collectively all the venues served about 2,500 more people that week than they did they day before," Deming says.