Dining hopes to match increased enrollment with food options
The size of the University’s student body, compounded by limited food options due to the closure of the Student Center Satellite, has led to longer lines for on-campus dining options still available.
Chartwells, the company responsible for the majority of dining options on campus, acknowledges that the options currently available aren’t enough to accommodate the growing campus population and has completed a vision plan for how it will strive to transform campus dining over the next five years.
“I don’t come (to the Student Center) too often just because of the lines,” said business senior Jennylee Quach, “It’s a once in a lifetime type of thing.”
The most significant change Chartwells hopes to bring to campus dining is a new retail dining center located where the Technology Annex currently sits, according to Chartwells’ vision plan.
In the meantime, a food truck park similar to those in Austin will open where the Chinese Star Restaurant was previously located, and two new restaurants will open in the Student Center South.
Chartwells decided on this direction after surveying students online and through in-person focus groups for the past year, Chartwells District Manager David Riddle said. The survey revealed that the biggest complaints students had were a lack of options and a lack of flavors present in the current dining options.
Riddle, along with other affiliates at Chartwells, designed the path the University will take in regards to dining over the next few years.
The majority of renovations will be happening to the central district of campus, which reaches from the Welcome Center to the Science and Engineering Classroom on Cullen Boulevard.
Plans for the Fall 2018 semester are already underway. Construction on Mondo Subs, which is being switched out for Cougar Byte, began last week, while renovations have also begun at the Satellite.
Upon the reopening of the Satellite, students will notice that Starbucks has received a visual refresh while Kim Son and Tandoori Nite have switched locations.
However, students will not be able to enjoy these improvements for long.
In Fall 2022, the Satellite will close to food service. It is too much of a risk to have so much dining susceptible to flooding, Riddle said. It will be up to the Student Centers to decide what to do with the locations.
The dining options lost with the eventual removal of food service from the Satellite will be replaced with the opening of a new retail center, set to open where the Technology Annex is currently located. This space was chosen because the Technology Annex is scheduled for demolition and because of the scenic views of trees and public art there, Riddle said.
The plans for the new retail location include bringing more Houston-based eateries to campus. The location also intends to have a brew pub, a coffee shop and a Shake Smart, in addition to an art gallery and a conference space.
However, history junior Damon Vandrey wonders, “How is it, in the great state of Texas, we do not have a Whataburger on this campus?”
The food options for the retail center are not yet finalized.
Other locations on campus will also experience a change in dining option availability over the next few years.
Depending on the renovations to the building, there will be a new 24/7 Starbucks location in the library in Fall 2020. Freshii will be closing this semester and will be replaced by Chartwells’ own brand called Create in its same place. Create like Freshii will serve salads and burritos. Riddle said they want Create to be faster and cheaper than Freshii.
In Summer 2019, the Melcher Hall Starbucks will be updated to have a newer, modern look, according to Chartwells’ vision plan.
Expected to open in Fall 2019, a food truck park is coming to Lot 21A in the space where Chinese Star was previously located. The lot is expected to hold two to three food trucks, a stage and a seating area. The hours for this location have not yet been finalized.
Parking Garage 5, which will be located near the College of Architecture, is slated for completion by Fall 2020. With the garage will come 3,000 square feet of space for dining locations.
When choosing the restaurants for this location, Riddle said he wanted to keep the architecture students in mind and have options that span breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dunkin’ Donuts, along with a build-your-own pizza concept, fit that bill.
Currently scheduled to open in Fall 2022, a new Chick-Fil-A location will take the place of the Taco Cabana on Cullen. If all goes to plan, its opening will coincide with the Satellite’s closing and the reopening of the new retail center. This Chick-Fil-A would be the second on-campus location, in addition to the one in the Student Center South, according to Chartwells’ vision plan.
The campus is too big for one Chick-fil-A, but not big enough for three, Riddle said.
The closure of Taco Cabana does not mean the end of having Mexican food on campus. The retail center that will replace the Technology Annex includes plans for a taqueria-like restaurant, according to Chartwells’ vision plan.
Both Cougar Woods and Moody Towers dining halls will undergo major changes over the next few years.
The biggest change students can expect to see in the dining halls is the demolition of the Moody Towers dining hall within the next three to five years.
The space will be replaced with another dining hall, to be completed by Fall 2022, that Chartwells hopes will bring more natural light, a fresher look and additional seating to the dining experience.
Moody Towers dining commons will remain operational until the new dining hall is built.
Next summer, Cougar Woods will receive a new interior to bring more warmth into the space, Riddle said.
Cougar Woods will also add a Freight Farm, where food will be grown in a shipping container and served in the dining hall. Students can expect to see these modified greenhouses the same time that the interior renovations are completed.
The specific dates and solutions Chartwells has proposed are not set in stone, but are meant to give students and staff an idea of how UH dining has the potential to change over the next five years.
“There are still lots of logistics to work out around every one of these things,” said Riddle.