DUC renovation gives food court ‘fresh’ look

Ashlee Clark

Rachel Haskins stepped into the newly opened Fresh Food Company in Downing University Center and gasped when she saw the changes made since last semester.

“It’s beautiful,” said Haskins, a Louisville sophomore, as she stood near the entrance on Thursday evening. “It looks so urban, like an urban-style restaurant.”

The former Topper Cafe in DUC was transformed into the Fresh Food Company as part of a two-phase renovation project done in a partnership between Western and Aramark.

Along with changes to the exterior of DUC, a wider range of food is now offered to hungry students, faculty and staff through the American Diner, Cafe Roma, American Bistro, Fresh Produce Market and Accents.

Grabbing a bite to eat at the Fresh Food Company no longer consists of standing in a single line as it did last semester at Topper Cafe.

Each subset of the Fresh Food Company is arranged in a circle, with the Fresh Produce Market and Accents in the center.

Fountain drinks are available at each end of the dining area, which rests on carpet to the right of the food lines.

“I like the way they’ve got everything spread out,” Somerset junior Joshua Neikirk said as light poured in through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Pale color and an abundance of fluorescent lighting also help illuminate the Fresh Food Company.

“There’s a nice flow of traffic throughout the entire thing,” Neikirk said.

Food service director Barry Wells said he believes service will be just as fast as it was before the renovations – despite the fact that a majority of entrees in the Fresh Food Company are catered to each customer.

“Part of the experience is the food being made-to-order,” he said.

Along with the layout of the Fresh Food Company, students are also impressed with the more modern appearance of the dining hall.

“I think it looks really cool,” said Pamela Eslinger, a freshman from Franklin, Tenn., as she sat at one of the new counter-style tables near the food lines.

Some students, like Krista Baltierra, have already chosen their favorites out of the wide assortment of food.

“American Diner, because they have really good mashed potatoes and gravy,” said Baltierra, a freshman from Franklin, Tenn., who was eating dinner in DUC.

And there’s more than just food. The interior of the building, with its sleek lighting and restaurant-style seating, has begun to draw those seeking a welcoming atmosphere on campus.

“I think it’s a clean, safe environment where I feel comfortable,” said Frankfort freshman Debra Thompson as she ate at a small table near the Fresh Produce Market.

Gene Tice, vice president for Student Affairs and campus services, said that was a goal for the project.

“We hope to bring the whole university community together,” Tice said. “It’s a great place to bring students, faculty and staff together.”

Fresh Foods opened Aug. 8, three months after the DUC renovations began.

Aramark provided a full initial capital investment of $3.5 million for the two stages of the project, Auxiliary Services Director Rob Chrisler said. The first phase was the renovation of the Garrett Food Court and Java City in Helm-Cravens Library.

Chrisler said all renovations through the project have been made without a student fee.

Tice credits the fast pace of renovation to the teamwork between the university and contractors.

“We all got together and made a commitment,” Tice said.

An additional $3 million from self-support operations on campus is being used for the expansion of DUC.

Seating will be increased by 40 percent through the renovations, Tice said. More seating and exterior finishes are still to be added around the south and east side of the building.

“We’re wrapping up the inside very quickly,” Tice said.

The second phase of building renovation, which has not yet been planned, will be done on the side of DUC facing Bates-Runner Hall.

“My focus right now is to finish the one side we’re working on,” Tice said.

Reach Ashlee Clark at [email protected]