The University of Washington, which has already received national acclaim for its pioneering fleet of food trucks, is now planning to add a full-service restaurant and Whole Foods-style grocery store to its roster of dining options.
"It's an overall philosophy for food service," UW dining assistant director Storm Hodge says. "We're supposed to be educating the next generation of leaders, but we've been providing them food that doesn't match the institution's passion and commitment."
About 5,400 UW students are currently on a meal plan, although thousands more regularly patronize Dining Services outlets, including the campus' 22 espresso stands. Hodge estimates his division serves 30,000 people every day.
UW Dining is classified as a self-sustaining auxiliary, so it doesn't receive any funding from the university or the state. The division currently generates $30 million annually, but Hodge believes he can push that figure closer to $35 million by urging his staffers to "dream big."
The sit-down restaurant and grocery store, which Hodge says evolved from big dreams, are set to open next fall.
Hodge hasn't yet released the menu for Cultivate, but describes the cuisine as Pacific Northwestern, by which he means "traditional French technique with an Asian flair and a heavy dose of seafood." Hodge expects hundreds of chefs will apply for the head chef position. "We love to promote from within, but we'll pick the best candidate," he says.
Meal plans at UW are designed so students pay a price for every item they consume. Although Hodge describes Cultivate as a good choice for students who "feel like splurging," he vows the cost won't be outrageous. He hopes to appeal to faculty members and staffers, as well as students who want a waitress to bring them their late-night fried eggs. Community members will also be welcome at the restaurant and market.
Hodge says neighboring businesses aren't concerned about the new competition. He points out few of the surrounding supermarkets solely target students.
The 10,000 square-foot UW market will include a meat case, seafood case and cafe.
"The students always talked about how they can get food cheaper at the market, so I'm going to open one," Hodge says.
In 2013, UW Dining will install its own coffee roaster so it can produce the beans it uses on campus. Other future plans include a dining room with a fully-equipped culinary classroom at its center.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Hodge says.