Wait…Why’d the Caf Price Go Up?

Posted more than a year ago.

The week before Thanksgiving, I was blessed to be part of one of the most unique and flat-out fun projects I’ve ever worked on: Students Pick. If you followed our shenanigans on Twitter (@OCThrive), you know that 1,977 students were invited to decide the fate of $275,000 in Thrive. They turned out in droves (thanks, Eagles!) and, with 600 votes, cast their lots with the Cafeteria Reboot.

And, if you’ve been watching the Thrive menu closely, you saw $275,000 land in the Campus Café Reboot pot at the very moment the students made their decision. It was a fantastic and game-changing week for Thrive, and I can’t thank our students enough for making it happen.

Now fast-forward two weeks. Again, if you’ve been watching the menu, you saw yet another change. The price of the Café Reboot, the Students’ Pick, has gone up. A lot. It was $3,000,000. Today it’s $4,246,000.

I’ll let you chew on that a second.

“Wait…what?!” you’re now thinking. “We were less than a million away from the goal! The students just put $275,000 into that project! $1.2M is a lot of money! Why the change?”

We’ve promised since day one to shoot straight with you in Thrive. And that means giving you the truth when it’s easy and when it’s not so much. A $1.2M jump in the middle of the year is a tough pill to swallow, for sure. It was hard for me to get it down when I heard it, too.

But it’s the right pill.

Here’s why. Originally, we conceived developing a redesigned cafeteria in the existing Dining Hall. That’s the model you’ve seen on the Thrive menu and the message I’ve been sharing since day one. In this first iteration, exterior walls would have been removed from the dining area, fixed seating and contemporary food stations would have been added, and the student entrance would have been reconfigured.

It would have been a very positive and efficient change at approximately $3 million altogether. But there was a big, hairy “however” hanging in the wings of this plan: where would we host dining events on campus? The Alumni Banquet, Athletic Hall of Fame Dinner, preachers’ luncheons, scholarship luncheons, college and departmental dinners, prayer breakfasts, Chamber events, employee dinners, Campus Connect, Honors Lunch, and more…without a modular, banquet-style dining space, how would we manage those?

The hard and short answer is that we wouldn’t.

We’d gain a great student space (which is what we want first and foremost), but we’d lose nearly 20,000 square feet of banquet space for alumni and community events—space that would be very, very difficult and expensive to find again. (Building a free-standing banquet space or addition could easily run $4M to $7M on it’s own!)

And we wouldn’t be the only ones hurting. By taking this space away from United Dining, our food service provider (and $1M donor to the new Caf), we would erode their team’s ability to provide outside catering—a revenue driver that allows them to provide fuller and better service to OC and our students.

“Hmmm…” you’re thinking now.

At OC, we don’t like win-lose scenarios. They’re just not our style. So we went back to the drawing board looking for the win-win. And thanks to our clever partners at Glover, Smith, and Bode (GSB) and CMS Willowbrook, and the thoughtful leadership of Vice President Terry Winn, we have a new design that, I believe, is exactly that.

And, because I relish giving you peeks behind the curtain, here’s an early concept of that design:

Dining Hall Concept Schematic

Exterior Concept

Serving Concept

Interior Concept

All plans provided by GSB, Inc.

This new take on the Reboot proposes a 15,872 square foot addition to the northwest corner of the Gaylord University Center. An all-new space that will overlook one of the most beautiful spots on campus.

This revised plan directly addresses many of the weaknesses identified in the current cafeteria (and the first proposed reboot) and turns those factors into strengths: 

  • Location is central to student traffic, just off the main campus commons.
  • Wraparound windows on the north side overlook the Lawson Commons—which include the Freede Centennial Clocktower and McGraw Pavillion.
  • A diversity of fixed seating options will make the space feel more approachable, less institutional, and more like a comfortable, attractive restaurant where students can eat, work, and gather for hours at a time.
  • Students will scan in at the service area only, opening up the entire 11,500 square foot dining floor for “come and go” usage.
  • Serving area, which takes advantage of the existing kitchen, is being built from the ground up to facilitate contemporary food prep.
  • Wider and more natural queuing area, use of existing south banquet rooms for group events, and alternate serving lines will relieve congestion during busy hours.

All of these awesome things will happen while preserving the majority of the existing banquet hall. This will essentially double OC’s dining capacity and will allow us to accommodate daily student life and public events simultaneously.

So, yes, the price is going up considerably. But we’re getting a better, more student-centric dining area in a superior location AND a banquet hall for the price of one project. In fact, the price for resulting square foot of usable dining space is going down by more than a third.

That’s amazing. Means more work for our team and more generosity from the OC family, but I for one am all for it (and I hope you are too).

More soon.