Foodservice Equipment Reports

UNIT DESIGN: USC’s Grand Slam

Some projects are big. And some are BIG. When teams from the University of Southern California, R.W. Smith & Co. and architectural firm A.C. Martin Partners got together to begin work on the new Ronald Tutor Campus Center in Los Angeles and its foodservice operations, it was clear this one would be in the latter category. It would have to serve a huge student body, numerous outlets and diverse cuisines. It would have to do it cost-effectively, and it would have to look good.

Opened in the summer of 2010, the Tutor Campus Center seen here makes quite an impression. The grand, Italian-style building draws students, faculty, staff and visitors with its arched windows, domed rotunda and grand piazza. And its foodservice operation, like the university itself, offers something for everyone.

At the top of the line is fine-dining restaurant Moreton Fig, created in partnership with acclaimed California restaurateur Chef Bradley Ogden. There’s also Lemonade, a retro-chic café developed by Los Angeles caterer and Chef Alan Jackson; Seeds Marketplace, with a gourmet selection of grab-and-go foods as well as grocery items; and a Food Court anchored by six well-known national concepts: California Pizza Kitchen, Carl’s Jr., Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Panda Express and Wahoo’s Fish Taco. In the lower level is a longtime USC favorite, a nightclub and bar called Traditions. Also on the lower level is the Trojan Ballroom, an 8,900-sq.-ft. space with banquet seating for up to 700.

Supporting the myriad food concepts—from chain to self-op, fine dining to quick-service, is the Tutor Center’s behind-scenes production kitchen. The space, nearly as long as a football field, operates 22 hours a day with the precision of the USC Trojan Marching Band.

Tutor Center Timeline & Team

Now starting its second year of operations, the Tutor Center comprises roughly 25% of total university dining, including catering and special events, for the 37,000-student university. First-year revenue figured approximately $11.37 million.

As with any project of this scope, planning was a group effort. The Tutor Center’s dining operation strategy began in ’06, led by USC Hospitality Services Associate Senior V.P. of Auxiliary Services Dan Stimmler with the support of former Director USC Hospitality Scott Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth was succeeded mid-project by current Director USC Hospitality and USC alum Kris Klinger, who joined the school in ’09 from Compass Group. The production kitchen and all food outlets were planned by longtime foodservice design veteran Art Manni of R.W. Smith & Co., Costa Mesa, Calif., while drawings were created by A.C. Martin Architects, Los Angeles.

Construction began on the day following graduation in ’08, orchestrated by Sylmar, Calif.-based building firm Tutor-Saliba Corp. (USC alum and company Pres. Ronald Tutor donated so significantly to the project that the building was named in his honor.) The Center opened for business in July last year.

Big Challenges

Planners had plenty of up-front challenges with the Tutor Center project, including tight deadlines, major last-minute design changes, stringent clean air regulations, multiple-level foodservice operations and narrow service access, to name a few.

For starters, designers had less than a year to complete and approve drawings. “We had to submit drawings to the city by year-end ’08 in order to operate under existing building codes,” Manni says. “The ’09 building codes were considerably stricter and would have been much more expensive to comply with.”

The second design hurdle was a change from university-created quick-service concepts to national chain brands—after construction was underway. The last-minute change stemmed partly from student requests for well-known names such as California Pizza Kitchen and Panda Express, and partly from practical constraints.

“We just didn’t have the personnel and time we needed to create so many self-operated concepts from scratch,” says Klinger, who joined USC about a year before the Tutor Center was due to open. “We decided to do two of our own concepts—Seeds Marketplace and Moreton Fig—really well, and rely on outside branding expertise for the rest.”

“We had already installed [food court] hoods and walk-ins when the university brought the franchised concepts into the mix,” Manni adds. “Our CAD department had to work closely with each branded concept to make sure the space worked for them and their equipment.”

The space occupied by the Lemonade café saw the most flux. “First it was going to be a sandwich shop along the lines of a Corner Bakery, but then as construction began, they thought a sushi concept might be better,” Manni says. In the end, the café concept won out.

Another hurdle was presented by California’s clean air regulations. And with the Tutor Center located in the middle of campus, it was doubly crucial for all ventilation hoods to be exhausting pre-cleaned air. The solution here was to install UV-enhanced hoods that vaporize grease particulates within the hood prior to exhausting through the ductwork and out into the open.

“Without that kind of UV hood technology, we would not have been able to build the Center,” Manni says.

Among other hurdles: Calculating food movement logistics within the multi-level foodservice layout of the Tutor Center. Pallets arrive at the mezzanine level and are brought down to the basement for distribution, prep and some pre-cooking. Then they’re transferred back to upper levels for service in the various food outlets. Complicating food supply movement are narrow service corridors dictated by the building’s long, narrow footprint. To avoid transport bottlenecks, designers added two extra elevators to streamline deliveries within the building.

Production Kitchen Tour

The Tutor Center production kitchen’s overall footprint is L-shaped and BIG—did we mention BIG?--measuring 200 ft. from end to end—about two thirds the length of a football field and covering 13,000 sq. ft. in all. At peak production times, up to 100 associates work here.

The layout was designed with product flow in mind. Food deliveries are moved from the dock on the mezzanine level down to the temperature-controlled receiving area in the basement. This is where pallets are staged, broken down according to invoices for later use by the nine food outlets, then transferred into coolers or dry storage further down the corridor.

The receiving area is anchored by a pair of service elevators—one dedicated to carrying prepped food and supplies up to the north end of the food court, the other used solely for ferrying trash and soiled serviceware back down to avoid cross-contamination. The ice machine area is also located here for easy ice distribution to service areas. 

Just past the ice machines is a bank of six massive walk-in coolers and freezers. CPK, Lemonade, Seeds and catering each have their own dedicated coolers; Wahoo’s and Panda share a cooler, and the freezer is used by all.

In addition, a dedicated Moreton Fig walk-in is located near the prep kitchen area, while a Traditions walk-in is adjacent to the production kitchen area.

“Separate but equal” applies in food production as well as storage. Klinger and his team rely on checklists, color-coding and lots of labeling to keep concept supplies and smallwares straight. “We created production smallwares checklists for each prep and cooking station serving the various concepts. It’s up to the cooks to make sure that whatever tools they use get washed and returned to the stations before they leave,” Klinger says.

Color-coded tags on smallwares and pans also help keep things straight. “Each concept has its own specific set of smallwares, but foodservice staff tends to use whatever happens to be closest at hand, usually the pans,” Klinger says. “This becomes an issue when a certain venue needs a specific amount of food prepared, and none of its pans are available.”

Prep Details, Self-Cleaning Floors & Big-Batch Cooking

Moving on from storage toward prep, the banquet dishroom on the left is placed well to accept soiled dishes from the nearby 700-seat banquet hall. Also here is where you’ll find the main waste pulper plus the cart- and mat-washing stations.

“The pulper unit accepts food-waste scraps, which are broken down and then processed through the extractor to expel water,” Manni says. “This reduces waste weight by as much as 85% and saves on trash collection fees.” The university is currently working with student groups to use the food waste in a campus composting program.

Immediately across from the long bank of walk-ins is the prep area. Key equipment there includes fixed work tables, prep sinks, choppers, food processors, a vertical cutter-mixer and numerous mobile work tables for flexibility. The tables all have access to electric power via ceiling-hung retractable outlets. In an unusual move for the prep area, designers included an undercounter pulping system here as well.

One thing visitors tend to notice during a tour of the production kitchen is its floor and how clean it stays even during the heat of culinary battle. The floor in front of all prep and cooking areas, as well as in the dishroom and scullery, features a non-skid grating material set above shallow floor troughs. Water jets set low in the troughs periodically fire to wash food debris into catchment screens for end-of-shift collection. The gratings are sized so they can be run through the warewasher.

“The floor-wash system saves on worker time and water that would otherwise be used in washing mats or cleaning floors,” Klinger says. “And the slightly springy grating material seems to help reduce worker fatigue.”

Just past the prep area, the passageway makes a left turn. If you look to the right you’ll find another service elevator used for sending food up to the south end of the food court venues. This elevator also stops at the mezzanine level to supply catering trucks making deliveries to other campus food outlets.

The kitchen’s main scullery area, across from the elevator, cleans kitchen pots and pans with the aid of a continuous motion warewashing system. Also in this corner is a dedicated walk-in for Traditions. 

Food then moves from prep straight into the adjacent cooking area. The cooking area features high-volume production equipment: tilting pressure braisers, combi ovens, blast chiller, a dual bain-marie/ice bath and roughed-in space for future cook-chill equipment.

The final area of the production kitchen is a smaller cooking area at the short leg of the “L”—this area is dedicated to serving Traditions bar orders, Moreton Fig production cooking as well as room service and catering finishing. A small warewashing area adjacent handles soiled dishes from both venues. It’s a good way to keep sporadic workloads from complicating bigger-volume production, and it’s handy to the outlets.

Tutor Center Looks Ahead

Klinger is already looking at growing the Tutor Center production kitchen’s output. “We’re working this year on making the kitchen a 24-hour operation starting next fall,” he says. The kitchen currently operates up to 22 hours a day, from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m., depending on events.

Also expected to be added as Tutor Center demand grows will be the cook-chill production equipment. “We have the space for it all--we just need to purchase and install the equipment,” Klinger says.

For now, though, the USC’s Tutor Center production kitchen has plenty to keep it busy.

FACT BOX

MENU/SEGMENT: College/University


PRODUCTION KITCHEN SIZE: 13,000 sq. ft.

DINING OUTLETS: California Pizza Kitchen, Carl’s Jr., Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Lemonade, Moreton Fig, Panda Express, Seeds Marketplace, Traditions Bar & Grill, Wahoo’s Fish Taco and the Campus Center banquet hall.


MEALS/DAY: 8,000

REVENUE, 2011: $11.4 million


STUDENT POPULATION: 37,000

FF&E KITCHEN EQUIPMENT PACKAGE: $5.76 million

KEY DESIGN PARTNERS:

USC Hospitality Services: Associate Senior V.P. of Auxiliary Services Dan Stimmler; former Director USC Hospitality Scott Shuttleworth; current Director USC Hospitality Kris Klinger

Foodservice design: R.W. Smith & Co., Art Manni, Costa Mesa, Calif.

Architectural design: A.C. Martin Partners, Los Angeles

Construction: Tutor-Saliba Corp., Sylmar, Calif.


WEBSITE: hospitality.usc.edu

3D VIRTUAL TOUR: usc.edu/student-affairs/construction/virtual_tour 

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