Board approves new campus eateries

Northrop and the Rec Center will both get new restaurants.

The University Recreation Center is ready for a cafe to move in and occupy the space on the left side of the lobby.

Chelsea Gortmaker

The University Recreation Center is ready for a cafe to move in and occupy the space on the left side of the lobby.

by Nicolas Hallett

The University of Minnesota will soon have two new campus eateries after the Board of Regents approved contracts on Friday.

The new café-style restaurants — to be managed by Taher, Inc. and Surdyk’s Inc. — are destined for the recently renovated Recreation and Wellness Center and the under-construction Northrop Memorial Auditorium, respectively.

Executive Director of Contract Administration Leslie Bowman said the decision allows the University to begin negotiating the specifics of the deals with the companies, and ultimately determine when food service can start. Surdyk’s and Taher have to sign the contracts before they’re finalized, but the contracts are expected to begin around April 1 of 2014.

“Everyone would like it to be done quickly,” Bowman said. “The Rec Center would like service as soon as possible, and Northrop wants it when it reopens.”

The two companies won the contracts through a competitive application process, and the University is offering them five-year deals, with two three-year renewal options. Surdyk’s is projected to make $8 million and Taher is expected to generate $10 million if the contracts last the full 11 years.

Purchasing Services Director Tim Bray said adding the two renewal options is “not automatic by any means” and that the University will re-evaluate after the first five years to ensure quality control.

If the contracts go the full 11 years, the University is expected to receive a revenue-based commission of $1.38 million. 

Surdyk’s will offer catering and alcohol at Northrop, and Taher’s snack bar will be located just inside the Recreation Center’s entrance.

Northrop is one of seven locations on University campuses that has a license to sell alcohol. The Board of Regents reapproved the building’s liquor license at its July meeting.

Aramark, the main food service provider on campus, renewed its contract, valued at $96 million, with the University in 2008. Bowman said the Northrop and Recreation Center spaces were excluded from the Aramark contract because both buildings were planned to be under construction at the time.

Northrop Director Christine Tschida said the vendor search was a joint operation involving officials from both facilities.

“We were both seeking food service at the same time, so it just made sense to look together,” she said. “We are both really happy with those choices.”

Tschida said Northrop chose its food provider based on its “fresh and unique” daily menu, which includes a variety of deli items as well as the versatility to offer “white-cloth” options for evening events.

Northrop can’t accommodate a large kitchen because of venting constraints in the 85-year-old building, she said, so it couldn’t have a full restaurant.

In addition to a new eatery, the Northrop revamp will include a dramatic boost in student study space. Tschida said every floor of the renovated building will have two student lounges.

“We really want Northrop to be active for student use,” she said.

Whetted appetites

University students and staff said they were intrigued by the prospect of additional restaurant options on campus.

Adam Brunner, University Honors Program communication specialist, said the program will occupy Northrop’s entire third floor when it reopens in April. He said he thinks the program’s staff will enjoy the new Northrop dining service when they relocate to the building.

“It will be a nice perk for the people in the building,” Brunner said.

Fisheries and wildlife senior Melissa Bownik said she’s interested in food being offered at the Recreation Center.

“That would be awesome. I would eat there a lot,” she said. “I feel like most people want to eat right after they work out.”

Bownik said eating at the Recreation Center will save time when she can’t go home between classes.

Recreation Center member services advisor Bahea Manasra has worked for the department for two years and said she was told the café will begin construction this month, if approved.

“I think students would love it,” she said. “I think it would be a great hangout spot on campus.”