UCI Dining Geared for Growth
While most students were away during the summer, several important dining changes took place on campus. The most obvious is the addition of Panda Express, Jamba Juice and Wahoo’s Fish Taco in the Student Center. Wahoo’s is still under construction with a grand opening on Oct. 12.
These new additions sparked my curiosity about UCI Dining options and the reasons why these restaurants were selected for our campus. According to Jack McManus, the director of UCI Hospitality and Dining services, UCI Dining “did six or seven projects this summer when everyone else was pulling back. We wanted to grow our business instead of cutting back.” At a time when the budget crisis is affecting student life and campus services, it was refreshing to see a part of the campus that is excited about growth and expansion.
The first change to the food court was the replacement of Rice Garden with a Panda Express. UCI Dining uses bi-annual surveys, as well as surveys of seniors at University High School – which has similar demographics to UCI – to gauge what services and dining options students prefer. It was clear that Panda Express was more desirable than Rice Garden to most students.
Jamba Juice took a mere six weeks to open, bringing in student employees and training them at the Metro Pointe location next to South Coast Plaza before working with them on campus. Jamba Juice manager and Vice President of Academic Affairs Christian Medero said, “we crammed [manager] training into two weeks at Metro Pointe. It was a big trip.” Managers then trained employees on campus during the summer to prepare for the school year.
McManus stressed the importance of student employees and stated that “the student development model was crucial” to UCI Dining. This model allows students to start at entry-level positions and work their way up to management poitions. Many students that work at UCI Dining as undergraduates often work their way up as student managers and are offered full-time positions upon graduation.
It is clear that UCI Dining is focused on expansion of available options for student dining. Both Wahoo’s and Jamba Juice are dining services that promote a lifestyle and add flair to our campus. Wahoo’s brings a fusion of Brazilian, Mexican, and Asian cuisines with a laid-back Hawaiian attitude. Jamba Juice makes healthy dining a lot easier, with menu options such as oatmeal, fruit smoothies and flatbreads. My personal favorite is the Acai Topper – a cross between a smoothie and fruit and granola parfait. In addition, a new Java City café is open near the Engineering Hall, which means there is finally a place to grab a much-needed cup of coffee before your 9 a.m. class in the Engineering Lecture Hall.
I was also able to meet the District Executive Chef of UCI Dining, Paul Baca. His career as a chef began in the military, and then branched out to the Diamond Club at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, the Executive Chef of The Los Angeles County Fair from 2004-2006, the 2004 Grammy Awards and MTV Awards shows. His experience has shaped his vision for UCI Dining, and he is even teaching cooking classes at the Anteater Recreation Center this quarter.
Baca talked about his vision for dining at UCI. “I would like to see our dining program as an elite food program and trend setter for college campus across the US. We offer all aspects of food service here at UCI and do it well. We want our customers, guest, and students to know that we look after their best interest, health, consumption, and variety of foods,” Baca stated.
There are also other changes in the works for campus dining. One recent addition in collaboration with Dominoes Pizza allows students to order pizza and pay with Zotbucks – something that is sure to come in handy for late-night study sessions or movie nights. Similarly, Bene’s Pasta and Pizza in the Student Center will offer affordable prices and a value menu ranging from $2-$5.
McManus also spoke with me about plans he hopes will develop in the future, such as expanded late-night hours, more convenience stores, and the spread of dining services to the Arroyo Vista and Vista del Campo communities that are further away from on-campus dining.
The commitment of McManus and UCI Dining to expansion is evident in the new additions to our food court. The laid-back, health-conscious lifestyle associated with our new dining options like Jamba Juice and Wahoo’s are more than just places for hungry students to eat, they bring a whole new attitude to our campus.