Cafe on U-M's North Campus gets $5.3M makeover

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Commons Café inside of Pierpont Commons on the University of Michigan's North Campus is gone, and Fireside Café has arrived.

U-M recently wrapped up a six-month, $5.3-million renovation project that transformed the 10,500-square-foot space from a 1960s diner into state-of-the-art eating and common area. It was paid for in part by a $65 per-term student fee, The Ann Arbor News ( ) reported.

The renovation included a complete new look and concept, transforming the space - which students dubbed "Rubber Café" - from a tray-style cafeteria, to a micro-restaurant themed eatery with five different stations from which diners can choose.

Patrick Schmid, the director of retail services, said that the updates to the space were needed, and that he's sure students, staff and members of the community will love the space.

"We started renovating the old Commons Café back in February. Commons Café was around from the early '60s up until that point. It was a little dated, and feedback from students said they wanted more choices and they wanted it updated," he said.

"We went from a 1960's style diner to this community restaurant that is a series of micro-stations serving all different kinds of food."

The micro-stations serve not just as a way to provide diners with several different food choices, but they also bring the cooking to the customers, giving them a chance to see their food prepared in front of them and adds to the overall freshness of the products, Schmid said.

"We worked with several student advisory groups in order to get feedback about what we wanted and from there we just sort of developed the menus and concepts."

That was something Mike DeVries, the manager at Fireside, said was also important. He noted the types of micro-stations in the dining area are a reflection of what the students and staff wanted to have in the space.

"When you first walk in you see Maize Blaze, and that features a fire and ice station, which is a sauté station with cold coolers near it. It opens up a lot of options for our cooks to where we can do a lot of made-to-order food and foods cooked in very small batches to maximize freshness. That will feature mostly international cuisine," he said.

"We also feature as many local ingredients as possible that we can get through our purveyor and through our local farms, and that's going to be a big focus at all of our restaurants here."

The other four micro-stations are Greens. Grains. Soups., a large salad bar featuring artisan breads and original home style soups; The Hearth, which has a brick oven and serves breakfast selections, lunch and dinner sandwiches, baked entrees, comfort food, and specialty flatbread pizza; Flare, which will feature a different Ann Arbor ethnic restaurant daily; and Fuel, a grab and go station with fresh-made sandwiches, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables and parfaits, as well as high-end bottled beverages and other snacks.

"At Hearth is where you'll really find a variety of grilled sandwiches," DeVries said.

"Our signature Fireside burger comes from that station and we'll have things like mac and cheese, fried chicken, mashed potatoes - foods that were hot items when Commons Café was on line and we wanted to keep that aspect of the business here so we could cater to our regulars."

Flare will rotate Hut-K-Chut on Mondays, Jamaican Jerk Pit on Tuesdays, Palm Palace on Wednesdays, Ahmo's Deli on Thursdays, and Earthen Jar on Fridays. Each restaurant will bring in its prepared food to serve at the station for lunch and dinner.

Aside from the early breakfast menu, the café also offers a limited late-night menu at The Hearth. From 8 p.m. until 12 a.m., the station will serve its Fireside burger, flatbread pizzas and dressed up waffle fries, among other snacks that appeal to the late-night crowd.

"Having the new facilities here with a very strong culinary emphasis on what we're doing really adds value to what we offer here at the university. These places, a lot of times, are where students hang out, where they study, where they come to relax," DeVries said.

"We wanted to offer some high-quality food for them, as well as making it a comfortable atmosphere to come and enjoy themselves. That's the reason the dining room is public space to them whenever the building is open."

There will also be a gourmet dessert station, and DeVries said that since a lot of the food will be made-to-order, there will be a lot of customizable vegan and vegetarian options available on a daily basis.

Fireside Café, as the name suggests, features multiple fireplaces, and has a wide-open seating style that will accommodate for daily traffic of about 600 to 700 people, Schmid said. Flat screen televisions and surround sound equipment will also be installed in the near future.

In total, the restaurant will employ about 50 people - mostly students who will self-schedule their shifts so they can work around class schedules - with eight full-time kitchen staff.

All meals are individually priced and can be paid for with cash, credit cards, Dining Dollars and Blue Bucks. The café is not considered a dining hall because meal plans aren't accepted.

From a facilities standpoint, energy and maintenance efficiencies were designed into the mechanical systems and lighting power density, and the space was also outfitted with automated lighting controls and LED and fluorescent lamps.

Carpet and tile materials include recycled content, paint and flooring materials are low in Volatile Organic Compounds content, and reclaimed wood from a local source was used in some interior work.

The café will be open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. until midnight, Friday, from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., and Sunday from 3 p.m.-11 p.m.

Pierpont Commons is located at 2101 Bonisteel.


Information from: The Ann Arbor News,

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Ann Arbor News

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