Curtis dining hall underwent an impressive transformation for fall semester 2017, making the most of its open plan and hub location to become an outstanding venue for student dining. The emphasis is on fresh ingredients, fresh preparation, range of options, and greater efficiency. Now Curtis is a great social space that stays open for student use even when meals aren’t being served.
The new design literally took down the walls that currently hide the cooking process, bringing the kitchen out into the open with a variety of food stations. At these stations, students customize their meals and talk with the people who prepare their orders with the freshest ingredients, right in front of them.
General Manager for Dining Services Paul Mixa is excited that the chefs and staff have newer and more efficient equipment and an open kitchen plan. “There is much more freedom for the students to make food the way they want it — students and staff can concentrate on good, fresh food and how they’d like to see it prepared.”
Mixa also sees more freedom for the chefs to create new dishes, and they continue to both develop a menu of ethnic foods and modify old favorites, especially the popular comfort foods. “Want to add something extra to your mac & cheese? The mac & cheese bar allows you to improvise. Don’t want peas in your chicken pot pie? That’s how we’ll make it for you.”
Jenna McDevitt, Director of Business Affairs, also likes the convenience and clarity of a special area for foods being created for students with dietary restrictions. “These foods are distributed throughout the serving areas as they always have been, but they also are concentrated in one prominent place to avoid the need for navigating, hunting, and asking.” Rice and almond milk, lactose-free and gluten-free products, as well as other options for restricted diets are readily available.
Seating options changed too: “We have a food bar area, booths, regular tables, and also big wooden community tables, which are popular,” says McDevitt.
The centerpiece of the renovation is a stone-walled fireplace, with comfortable seating around it. Students have meals beside the fire, which is open for students to use and enjoy after food service hours.
“Curtis is more than just a dining hall,” says Tommy McMaster ’19. “There are different styles of seating and sections to suit the atmosphere and amount of time you want to spend with your meal. The new social space at the fireplace is a great hub for west quad and an excellent area to study in at night.”
Alexandria Nickles ’17 is also excited about the plan. “The space brings the community together. It’s a place where students want to go to spend time with their friends, not just for food. And having the food prepared in front of us is really cool. It helps students learn about food and see an overall fresh, healthy approach to cooking.”
Since most of the infrastructure for Curtis dated back to 1967, all of the kitchen exhaust, lighting, and other systems were replaced as well as cooking and refrigeration equipment, which means that energy efficiency and environmental sustainability have been greatly improved. Art Chonko, director of facilities services, expects something in the range of a 30 to 45 percent reduction in energy use after the renovation, possibly better.