Colorado State University has invigorated its aging Parmelee Dining Center with the introduction of a new high-end burger concept based on commercial chains like Five Guys, Smash Burger and Stuft. Students picked the name Ram Shack in a public vote while feedback from social media helped shape the overall venue concept.
“We were having difficulty getting our student body to eat at Parmelee Dining Center, which is an older unit slated for renovation in a couple of years,” says Mark Petrino, Senior Associate Director for Residential Dining. "Our other dining centers are new Marché-style venues. Parmelee, with its old-style serving lines, seemed dated in comparison. We tried everything from pizza to all-day breakfast to vegetarian; nothing stuck.”
Noting the recent popularity of high-end burger chains like Five Guys, Petrino began to develop an upmarket burger platform concept for the underutilized space. “It was important for us to engage with our students throughout the development process," he says. "I think this was a huge factor in our ultimate success."
“We created an atmosphere, menu and style of service similar to local burger hangouts in Fort Collins,” adds Peter Testory, Assistant Director for Culinary and Support Services, “We hand pat our own ground beef, smash them on a flattop grill at high heat to sear in flavor, butter toast the bun and let the students choose from a wide-selection of toppings—including homemade ketchups—that rotate daily. Our crew also makes their own seasoned fries and hand cut chips.”
There were concerns that focusing on fare as traditional and familiar as burgers would fail to engage a savvy student demographic accustomed to nationwide food service trends toward more exotic, international cuisine. But despite this initial skepticism, the venue has proven to be a hit.
“Prior to Ram Shack’s opening, the unit served fewer than 100 customers over the course of the day—we’re now seeing over a thousand,” says Petrino. “We’ve also added made-to-order milkshakes to give a real burger joint feel and we plan on a few more surprises once the students come back this fall.”