“WOW” may refer to the multiplayer online role-playing phenomenon which rolled onto computer screens everywhere in 2004. But at the moment, it is an expression commonly heard when one strolls past the back half of Susan B. Anthony Hall.
Renovations to Danforth Fresh Food Company and Hillside Market (re-named from Danforth Dining Center and Hillside Café) have recently been completed — just in time for the coming school year — and the verdict is in: the transformation is mind-blowing.
“The renovations exceeded any expectation[s] I had,” Resident District Chef Antonio Pignagrande said. “The first time anyone walks into Danforth, the first thing they say is wow.”
UR President Joel Seligman was equally impressed.
“It is a triumph of coordination, of food, of ambiance — it is a way of saying to all of our students, ‘you’re welcome and we’re going to feed you,’” he said at the facility’s grand opening on Monday, Aug. 22.
The New Danforth
The changes are evident almost immediately. Whereas diners used to be greeted by a simple, brightly colored wall when approaching the dining center, visitors now run smack into a vast image of the skyline of downtown Rochester taken this past Fourth of July.
“We wanted a panoramic view, preferably of the Genesee River, but spotlighting on the parts that you might not see if you’re just standing on campus,” Director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations Cam Schauf explained. “The whole idea is to let people know more about the community that’s outside of this campus.”
In addition to this visual smorgasbord there are graphics of other familiar images of Rochester, such as local sports teams and landmarks, plastered throughout the facility, bringing the city a little closer to the campus.
These images are only one of many modifications though. Danforth will now offer booth seating, banquette seating (also known as bench seating), small and large tables.
Although the overall number of physical seats has gone down to 420, there is hope that the percentage of seating actually being used will go up. In the Danforth of yesteryear, the majority of seating was tables for eight with only a small number of booths available for smaller groups. For example, a group of three will no longer have to use a table twice as big as is necessary.
This is only part of a broader goal to transform Danforth into a myriad of smaller “restaurants.” Other efforts include the graphics and changes in the lighting and textures — a large shift from the broken chairs and tables, stained carpets and dated equipment that it used to be.
“The dining room was drab and very institutional feeling,” Schauf said. We wanted to be able to provide an atmosphere that, in such a large room, still could feel more intimate.”
After the project was approved, an architect and a general contractor were hired and a plan was developed. Even before any physical labor had begun, weekly meetings were held to discuss everything from development of the plans to necessary preparations for the building.
It wasn’t solely administrators and professionals who had a say in this project though.
“I think another cool piece to the whole story was how much involvement students had throughout … everything from the colors on the booths, to the type of chairs, to the images throughout,” Marketing Manager Molly Chamberlain noted. “They really had a say with what we were doing with the area.”
Work began on May 1 and continued throughout the summer. Because the building was occupied throughout the season, all equipment and material were brought in (or out) through one of the larger windows in Danforth, so as not to disrupt residential life.
But what about the food?
The ingredients themselves have not changed and will be ordered from the same warehouses and farms as in previous years, but students can expect standard menu alterations. There will be a Mongolian grill, soups, a versatile salad bar (sometimes it will hold a full salad bar and other times it might house other options), a deli, paninis, a sautee station, pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables, a variety of beverages, grill specialties, soft-serve and hard-packed ice cream, a vegetarian and vegan station and a brand new pizza oven, among other selections.
How will these provisions compare to other food on campus? Schauf took a guess on how the pizza will fare.
“We have it on authority from the people that are going to be working here that it’s going to be better [than the pizza in the Commons],” he joked. “We’ve got a real rivalry shaping up over pizza on this campus.”
Another major advancement is the opportunity for customer-employee interactions. Kitchens (known as “cooking platforms” in dining-speak) will now be located in full view of customers.
This means that all cooking and preparation will take place while the hungry patrons look on. It is hoped that this will provide a fresh perspective by allowing one to see exactly what goes into a meal, and also provide an opportunity for immediate customization.
“[Students] think that when [they] see the food being made … [it’s] more fresh, even if it’s the same food it was behind kitchen doors,” Chamberlain said.
This new set-up is meant to help employees as well. Schauf hopes it will foster improved customer service and a more comfortable environment — not only because there will simply be increased face time with customers but also because of the new equipment.
The staff has been participating in classroom-style training recently to make sure they are up-to-date on how to work their new gear. Only time will tell if the desired effects will truly manifest themselves, but in these early stages it appears that things are going in the right direction.
“The employees have all had smiles and are engaged,” Pignagrande said. “It is easy to focus on the meal rather than trying to work with equipment that has seen better days.”
Tristan Hickson, a Danforth employee, agreed with this upbeat assesment.
“This place last year, it was nothing compared to this,” he said.
Janay Bell, another Danforth employee, added,“It’ll take a little bit to get used to, but once we get used to it it’ll be a lot easier.”
Environmentalism was also a large factor throughout the project. All of the chairs in the facility are made from recycled Coke bottles and cans — each one is made up of 111 20 ounce plastic bottles. Over 75 percent of items taken out of the old Danforth were recycled, local materials and labor were used in the construction, all of the lights are either fluorescent or LED and a number of them work on a sensor.
Hillside has also seen some major modifications. The café- turned-market has replaced the Corner Store (which is currently being used for storage), carrying items that were once held in the campus convenience store. In fact, the market will carry a larger selection of convenience items, thanks to of the expanded space.
Hillside Market will carry a plethora of provisions, including a hot food station which will contain dishes like macaroni and cheese, wings, fresh produce, a coffee and espresso counter, a milkshake machine (which was previously located in Douglass Dining Center), healthy snacks, bulk items (such as candy, peanuts and granola), microwavable meals and much, much more.
The inventory was determined by observing what students bought at the Corner Store and also from surveys to figure out what people were looking for — one result being more local and organic options. The new Hillside will also have seating available for those who wish to dine in.
Behind the scenes
The renovation itself went rather smoothly. All initial plans for the space were kept — aside from changes that would have a positive effect on issues such as energy and water consumption.
Two major problems that did occur, however, were the appearance of a couple of leaks after a particularly heavy rainstorm and, on Monday, Aug. 22, the day of the facility’s grand opening, a leak in the gas line occurred early in the morning, preventing the gas-operated cooking equipment from being ready in time for the opening, but Schauf assured attendees that the food would be ready by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Although the final costs are not yet in, the project cost an excess of $8 million. An inarguably large sum, yes, but there will be no lasting impact on students.
“We don’t make a profit when all is said and done,” Schauf explained. “We take anything that might be seen as profit and put it back into the facilities. We just made sure we were able to borrow the money and pay it back over time with money that’s left over at the end of each year.”
Once orientation is over and regular Fall hours have begun, Hillside Market will be open 24 hours a day except on Friday and Saturday, when it will close at 2 a.m. Danforth will be open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and for a continental breakfast, brunch and dinner on Saturdays and Sundays.
Hillside will run on a retail basis, but Danforth (as well as Douglass) will be all-you-care-to-eat facilities and will accept the new unlimited plan (as will Eastman Dining Center). Those who have opted for an all-declining plan aren’t out of luck though—meal prices have been lowered significantly — lunch is now $6.50 and dinner $7.50.
Schauf is confident that these new dining plans will be an improvement over the old clubs and declining system.
“I think the freshmen will love them and I think that students will just have to learn that it’s a whole different way of looking at eating on campus,” he said.
Danforth and Hillside may be ready for business, but the University isn’t done yet. Douglass is next on the list for a complete overhaul. Discussions will begin in the Fall, but at this point any renovations are projected to be completed the summer after next.
Pignagrande is particularly satisfied with these new renovations — and only has one regret.
“The only thing I would change about the renovation is to have done it sooner,” he said.
Goldin is a member of
the class of 2013.