Renovations at Northwestern University Dining Halls Bring New Character to Each Facility


When Compass Group earned the contract to provide food-service for Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., the challenge was to transform multiple residential dining facilities and one food court within the first year. Their charge: to wow students, improve food offerings and create dining destinations.

“Students may call a particular residence hall home, but now, when it comes to dining, they have a journey, the potential for a new experience at every meal,” says Karl Behrens, CEO of design and build, Compass Group North America, and the conductor overseeing all the projects.

As of Fall 2019, the Compass team completed makeovers at Allison, Elder and Sargent residential facilities and at Norris University Center. While each project is unique, all have common threads: quick design-build timelines (some only 90 days), student-curated food platforms and display cooking.

Guiding the vision on the NU side was Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, interim vice president of student affairs, who helped connect students to the vision, and David Stone, Northwestern’s director of facilities, who provided strategic support at the institutional and city level. From Compass Group, operations vice president Jennifer Byrdsong devised the overall operational plans, while Behrens and project executive Rigo Sanchez wrangled tasks related to design, permitting, construction and the environment.


Compass Group Renovations at Northwestern University Dining Halls

Compass Group renovations at Northwestern University’s Allison, Elder and Sargent dining halls have brought new character to each facility, along with a higher level of interactivity with culinary staff and with food.


Bringing Transparency to the Dining Hall

Renovations at Allison, Elder and Sargent dining halls gave each location a unique look and feel, Behrens says. Each hall also features interactivity with culinary staff and with food, plus a wide array of seating styles (soft, hard, high, low, booth, community table, etc.) to meet customers’ wants and needs. Work began at the end of June 2018 at Sargent, and finished in September 2019 at Allison.

Allison now has a light, airy feel thanks to a palette of natural wood, marble, stainless and shades of turquoise, lavender and gold. Dubbed the Food eKitchen, the space “caters to a new generation of foodies,” Behrens says. “This is where food meets tech meets education. Compass has a concept called the Teaching Kitchen that aims to turn every meal into a lifestyle education opportunity. Display screens show everything from the day’s menu to fun facts about food, allergen awareness, nutritional facts and more.” Allison also features its own indoor grow towers, allowing chefs to use the fresh herbs grown right inside the hall.

“Before renovations, only about 20% of food production was visible,” Behrens recalls. “Today about 70% is visible.”

One challenge at Allison was how to squeeze in more seating. “We added 122 extra seats by blurring the lines between traditional servery and seating area,” Behrens says. “Seating can be found around food production areas, between stations, and even above stations on an elevated platform. Our goal was for every table to have a view of food areas.”


Northwestern University Allison Dining Hall Seating

At the Allison dining hall, below, a platform was built above the stations to provide much-needed extra seating. The goal was for all seats to have a view of food areas.


Elder’s starting condition was small and dark with low ceilings. Designers took those points and ran with them. “The result was a speak-easy setting that we dubbed a ‘fun food factory,’” Behrens says. Antique-style pressed aluminum ceiling tiles provide a retro look while reflecting light; and a jewel-tone palette centered around the signature Northwestern purple adds a rich feel.

Food became a focal point after the renovation. “We took down the wall hiding the kitchen and instead created a food bar where students can interact with staff,” Behrens says. “Stations include a salad and deli bar, soup station and interactive EVO grill. An allergen-friendly Pure Eats station, pizza, grill and kosher station anchor the back wall.”

At Sargent, “the decor is ‘farm to table,’ with a hands-on, participatory food design,” Behrens says. “We added only one new station, The Nook, where students can assemble their own meals. It has the feel of a home kitchen on campus, with refrigerators, waffle makers, toasters, speed ovens and cereal and beverage stations.” Supporting The Nook behind the scenes is a pizza prep table, pizza oven and cold storage.


Northwestern University Allison Dining Commons Digital Monitors

Small digital monitors at stations impart food info to students.


Upgrading Norris Food Court

The food court at Norris University Center was one of the first projects for the Compass team. It opened in September 2018. School administrators’ initial ask was for the Compass team to update the food court so it could be used for three more years, which is when the university expected to open a new student center. Then things changed.

“About a month into planning this over-the-summer renovation, the university asked if we could design the project for a seven-year horizon instead,” Behrens says. “We expanded our focus to address user experience and flow issues, improve aesthetics, add more transaction points and overhaul all the gathering areas,” Behrens says. The project timeline stayed the same, however. A round-the-clock construction schedule during July and August ensured the food court met its September opening deadline.

Changes to the Norris “food-print,” as Behrens calls it, had to meet three goals to be considered: transformational, flexible and student-curated.

The team transformed the food court by addressing traffic flow blockages and adding a concept where none had existed before. The previous layout required customers to walk all the way around a central area to reach food concepts at the back, or to cut through the convenience store to reach the back. The team reduced the convenience store’s footprint and shifted its walls a few feet to make room for a direct hallway leading to the food concepts.

“Now we have a customer journey,” Behrens says. “Guests can walk around every corner and find something new.”

To increase dining options, the team invited fast-casual chain MOD Pizza to set up shop in an 810-sq.-ft. foodservice space formerly used as a seating area. MOD’s signature stone-hearth oven and its accompanying ventilation requirements created challenges. Crews hoisted the 7,000-lb. oven into an area formerly occupied by chairs and tables by removing some of the floor-to-ceiling windows and moving it in from the side.

Meanwhile, the ground-floor, corner location meant an abbreviated, horizontal ventilation run for the stone-hearth oven. “Because the distance between oven and fan was too short for the hot air to cool sufficiently for the fan we had specified, we had to make a last-minute upgrade to a unit rated for high temperatures,” Behrens explains.


Norris University Center Best of Local Food Court

The Norris University Center’s food court includes a station called Best of Local. Students can vote on their preferred local restaurant concepts, and Compass’ FoodWorks division does the legwork to bring them in for two-week engagements.


Rotating Options

The team addressed flexibility and student-curation at Norris with a variety of concepts. Along with MOD Pizza, also new is Patty2 (pronounced Patty Squared), created by Evanston’s own Amy Morton, part of the family that founded Morton’s The Steakhouse. Additionally, a trio of counter-service dining outlets, as well as a convenience store called Roots & Seeds and a Dunkin’ Donuts provide something for everyone.

Patty2 offers composed salads and wraps, burgers, kombucha on draft and cold-brew coffee as well as smoothies and milkshakes. Its equipment lineup would be at home in any burger joint, and includes a griddle, fryers, prep table, blender, mixer and beverage dispensers.


Norris University Center Patty2

At the food court at Norris, the popular Patty2 concept lets students choose from up to three types of kombucha on tap, along with two kinds of cold-brew coffee. The menu also offers burgers, wraps, smoothies and milkshakes.


The trio of counter-service dining outlets includes bowl-concept Asiana, Wildcat Deli and the newest installation, Best of Local. Designers created Best of Local to rotate in new concepts every two weeks. “This station in particular gives students the ability to take ownership of what comes next to this station,” Behrens says. “Our partnership with FoodWorks lets us bring in local chefs and concepts. This adds variety and also helps local businesses grow and expand.” Food-Works, a Compass platform, evaluates students’ suggestions and handles the logistics and behind-the-scenes verifications needed to ensure success.

Flat-screen monitors display the logo and menu of each new visiting concept. Supplemental marketing items and their own uniforms reinforce their identity. The Best of Local station, covering about 170 sq. ft., comes equipped with a hood, a bank of fryers, drop-in hot and cold wells and refrigeration, as well as ample power, ventilation and gas to meet most operators’ needs. Quick-disconnect outlets allow operators to swap equipment in or out as needed.

At Asiana, customers can choose from rice bowls, sushi, poke bowls and more. A sushi display case shows off fresh seafood. The station also comes with a griddle, steamer, char-broiler and fryers. The Wildcat Deli features sandwiches and wraps. Its equipment includes a sandwich prep table, speed oven and a warming unit.

The Roots & Seeds convenience store—with a compact self-serve salad and hot-entree bar, bottled specialty beverages and bagged snack items tucked into the 440-sq.-ft. footprint—offers a “whole meal opportunity for students,” Behrens notes. “Students can pick up a well-rounded lunch and be on their way quickly.”


Norris University Center MOD Pizza

At Norris, MOD Pizza anchors the food court from a space formerly used for seating. Crews brought in the stone-hearth oven by removing windows. The ground-floor, corner spot required some last-minute upgrades to fan specs for proper ventilation.


A Look Ahead

At least one more resident dining hall renovation lies ahead. “Our vision is for Foster-Walker to be the campus food hall,” Behrens says. “It will have hyperlocal stations featuring area chefs, similar to what we created at Norris with Best of Local.”

Northwestern University Dining Hall Floor Plan


Norris Food Court, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

  • FACILITIES: Dining commons at Allison, Elder & Sargent residential living facilities and the food court at Norris University Center
  • LOCATION: Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
  • MENU/SEGMENT: College & University
  • CLIENT (Northwestern University): Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, Ph.D., interim vice president of student affairs; Jeremy Schenk, Ed.D., executive director of Norris University Center; David Stone, director of facilities
  • FOODSERVICE CONTRACTOR: Chartwells Higher Education/Compass Group: Karl Behrens, CEO of design and build, Compass Group North America; Jennifer Byrdsong, vice president of operations for Compass Group at Northwestern University; Rigo Sanchez, director of design and construction at Compass Group
  • CONSULTANT/DESIGN FIRM: NVironment, Columbus, Ohio
  • ARCHITECT: Christopher Collins, NVironment
  • WEB:



  • Advanced Gourmet sushi prep/display case
  • True reach-in freezer
  • Southbend/Middleby griddle, countertop steamer
  • Pentair Everpure filtration for steamer
  • Garland/Welbilt charbroiler
  • Continental refrig. stand for griddle
  • Pitco/Middleby fryers
  • Vollrath induction rethermalizer
  • Vitamix blender
  • BUNN coffee/tea brewer
  • Advance Tabco worktable, hand sink, wall-mounted shelving

Wildcat Deli

  • Duke Mfg. hot display, cold pan display, sandwich prep table
  • Nemco warmer
  • Merrychef/Welbilt microwave/convection oven
  • Lockwood mobile display cabinets
  • Nu-Vu/Middleby proofer, oven/proofer
  • Advance Tabco hand sink

Best of Local

  • Pitco/Middleby fryer, food cabinet station
  • Advance Tabco worktable
  • True reach-in refrig.
  • Hot wells, cold wells, worktop (existing)
  • Vulcan/ITW FEG griddle
  • Traulsen/ITW FEG freezer base


  • Keating griddle
  • Hood (existing)
  • Univex hamburger molder
  • Pitco/Middleby fryers, food cabinet station
  • Continental sandwich prep table, griddle stand/freezer, reach-in refrig.
  • Vitamix blender
  • Waring mixer
  • Alto-Shaam warming/holding cabinet
  • Structural Concepts self-service case
  • Micro Matic beer dispenser
  • Metro/Ali Group shelving
  • Hoshizaki worktop freezer
  • Advance Tabco wall-mounted shelving, work table, hand sink
  • T&S Brass wall-mounted faucet, waste valve
  • Eagle three-comp. sink
  • John Boos work table

Roots & Seeds

  • BUNN cold draft nitro coffee
  • Lancer beverage dispenser
  • Pentair Everpure water filter
  • BSI LLC food shields
  • Wells/Middleby drop-in cold pans
  • Vollrath soup wells
  • American Panel walk-in cooler

MOD Pizza

  • Wood Stone stone-hearth oven
  • Vollrath drop-in cold pans
  • Structural Concepts self-service counter case
  • Continental pizza prep tables, reach-in refrig.
  • Channel Mfg. pizza pan rack
  • Cambro pizza dough box
  • Cuppone dough press, pizza press stand
  • Taylor/Middleby shake freezer
  • Fisher deck-mounted faucet, work table
  • Hoshizaki ice maker
  • 3M purification filter for ice maker
  • Eagle scullery sink


I5 Potawatomi 2023 07

Potawatomi Hotel & Casino Makes a Sure Bet

At the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, Milwaukee, a massive renovation delivers new restaurants, bars and gaming experiences.


Denver Restaurant Puts Plants Forward

Farm & Market couples urban dining with sustainable farming by operating a hydroponic farm, market and restaurant under one roof.

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -


- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -