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Sept. 1, 2010 Volume 32, No. 2

From coffee to wraps, Campus Dining builds new brands

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Original concepts replace national chains

Not long ago, the dining options on a college campus were identical to what you’d find at interstate exits — fast-food burgers, corporate-fried chicken and truckstop coffee. 

To meet the palates of today’s students requires a new approach. At the MU Student Center, that meant banishing ubiquitous chains such as Pizza Hut and Burger King in favor of new and original establishments that not only offer better food, but an ambience more akin to an upscale restaurant row.

The transformation began more than six years ago, said Julaine Kiehn, director of Campus Dining Services, when the University of Missouri started asking student groups to weigh in on what to eat.

“Their number one priority was quality and variety,” Kiehn said. “From there, we came up with a number of concepts and developed our own brands.”

The half-dozen outlets in the student center are all owned and operated by MU, but each has its own identity. The food at each is different, of course — fresh-made sandwichs and wraps at Kate and Emma’s; pizza and pasta at Pomodoro; Brazilian-style barbecue at Del Mundo — but so is almost everything else, from the font on the menus to the shape of employees’ nametags.

The idea with each restaurant, said Alan Petersen, who, as manager of Campus Dining Services, oversees the 20,000 square-foot operation, is that students should “wonder why there isn’t one of these in their home town.”

The self-branding concept allows more flexibility, Petersen added. Unlike a chain, for example, Infusion, a coffeehouse and bakery, can replace an unpopular menu item with something new without seeking corporate approval first.

Petersen, who has a background in branded operations at Burger King and Chick-fil-A, oversees a full-time staff of 10 managers and two assistant managers. A chef develops the menus and trains the workers, including about 70 students. Those numbers will grow when two new establishments — Mizzou
Market and Mort’s, a chicken and burger joint — open up in late October, in time for Homecoming weekend.

Petersen said he’s been encouraged by the response
to the new dining center, which has been serving close to
3,000 people a day. So far, the longest lines have been at Sunshine Sushi, a popular regional chain that made the move from the old food court at Brady Commons. 

“Things are going well,” he said. “People like the food, we’re getting faster everyday and customers are getting familiar with where things are. It’s new for them too.”