Cafe 3 was designed to be a "lingering" place, with comfortable seating and extended hours.
Well, maybe the fourth time's also the charm. As it reinvents the campus dining environment at the University of California at Berkeley, Cal Dining Services keeps upping the ante. Having already performed three major renovations—each with a distinctive touch that skirted the cutting edge in college dining while also providing its own unique contribution to the campus environment—the department recently unveiled its newest effort, Cafe 3.
The dining hall, located in the campus's Unit 3 residential complex, was completely renovated on a relatively modest $5 million budget with the help of design consultant Porter Consulting Worldwide and architects Mesher Shing and Kava Massih.
The result: a complete reinvention of the eatery into an ultra-cool lounge area with four major food stations, each with its own theme and cuisine emphasis (see sidebar) and design touches like "aurora borealis" atmospheric lighting (to see how it works, go to http://caldining.berkeley.edu/dc3.html).
Cafe 3 joins two other recently renovated dining halls—Crossroads and Clark Kerr—and a new retail grocery market called the Bear Market, located nearby. The opening solves some operational problems as well as upping the ante on the quality of campus dining at Cal-Berkeley overall, says Cal Dining Director Shawn LaPean.
"We have three resident communities with about 1,100 in each location," he explains. "The problem was that everybody was eating at Crossroads, where the back-of-the-house wasn't made to serve 4,000-5,000 meals a day like we were doing. So part of the goal was to draw some traffic away from there."
The early results are encouraging. The opening dinner drew 1,216, a huge leap over the 448 who came to the venue on that day last year. The next day's brunch number jumped from 317 to 820.
Can it last?
"We hope to keep the momentum by giving students an unbelievably comfortable and very cool place to hang out," LaPean says. "We want students to linger."
The lingering is designed to take place even past foodservice hours. Cafe 3's servery is only open for 10 weekly meal periods: brunch (10:30 am - 2 pm) and dinner (5 - 9 pm) Monday through Thursday, plus brunch on Friday and dinner on Sunday night. However, the lounge areas open at 9 in the morning and stay open until 2 am.
"These are the 10 busiest meal periods we serve," LaPean explains. "We're not going to be doing our late night service here right now because we didn't want to put pressure on a new facility. Rather, we wanted to use this semester to learn with an eye towards next year. Eventually, we want to make Cafe 3 as close to a 24-hour facility as possible because it's out closest-to-campus dining hall."
When Cafe 3 is not serving, students using the lounge can still get food and drinks from the nearby Bear Market, which stays open until 2 am Sunday to Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
These are exciting times for the department. Cal Dining is on pace to reach a record $41 million in revenues this school year, helped considerably by unprecedentedly brisk sales of nonresidential meal plans. They were at 1,900 on the first day of the spring semester, with 2,000 is within reach.
As for the future? LaPean eventually wants to extend Cafe 3's hours, perhaps to round the clock. He is also wants to add variety to the all-you-can-eat sushi bar by working with outside chefs like Mai Pham to develop branded signature lines of products.
And he wants to complete the upgrading of Cal Dining's residential dining locations with a renovation of Foothill Dining Hall, the campus's fourth residential dining location. "We hope we get capital dollars next year," he says. "It's in a remote location and the students seem pretty happy right with it now though. But once they see Cafe 3, I'm sure the pressure will be on."
So, What About the Food?
Near the entry, a pizza/pasta station features a pizza bar with two or three selections for dinner, and a choice between flatbreads and pizzas during brunch. The pasta portion is a bar serving a pasta of the day with at least two choices of sauces.
Front and center of the service area is the Asian station, with a noodle bar, a cold station and a stir fry station so that a variety of choices from all over Asia can be offered. So for example, the noodle bar might have Vietnamese Pho one day and Chinese Pulled Noodles with Five-spice Beef the next.
Meanwhile, the cold station might serve Japanese cold somen and other cold plates from different parts of Asia at brunch, and all you care to eat sushi at night. The sushi selection offers both white and brown rice sushi as well as dessert sushi wrapped in pink and green soy wrappers.
The stir fry station's selections range from Thailand to Taiwan with specials like Pad Thai, Asian Barbecue Pork (Char Siu), Thai Cool Beef, Saigon Pork Chops, Teriyaki Salmon, and Satay Chicken with Spicy Peanut Sauce.
The third major entree area is the EuroStation, with dishes that may be a little less exotic, but just as culinarily exciting. Planned selections here include Seared Tilapia with Lemon Butter Sauce, Tri-tip with Mushroom Sauce, Duck Legs with Plum Sauce and comfort food favorites like Corned Beef with Mashed Potatoes and Cabbage, Garlic Baked Chicken and BBQ Beef Brisket.
In addition, Cafe 3 will feature Cal Dining's fourth certified organic salad bar, with all selections, from vegetables and dressings to toppings, being certified organic.
A TYPICAL DAY'S MENU AT CAFE 3