Northwestern official: Student complaints drove Norris dining overhaul


Mariam Gomaa/The Daily Northwestern

Some areas on the ground floor of Norris have been closed while the University prepares for Frontera Fresco’s expected opening in late October.

Paulina Firozi, Campus Editor

The recent decision to replace and revamp some of Norris University Center’s dining options came after years of negative feedback from Northwestern students, an NU official revealed Monday.‬

The University announced earlier in the day that Frontera Fresco, the quick-service branch of Chicago chef Rick Bayless’ famous Frontera Grill, will open its first location on a college campus when it moves in to Norris next month. Frontera Fresco will replace Sbarro, Crepe Bistro and Jamba Juice on the center’s ground floor.

NUSushi will move in to the Paws ‘n Go C-Store along with North Shore Pizza Company, another new addition to Norris’ dining lineup.

In food-service surveys circulated by both the University and the Association of College Unions international, NU students complained that Sbarro offered greasy, unhealthy pizza and asked why Norris could not find a better vendor, said Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, vice president of student affairs for student auxiliary services.

Although survey results showed that some students appreciated the low price of happy-hour crepes at Crepe Bistro, Payne-Kirchmeier described the feedback on other menu items as “less than stellar.” Student complaints about cold, stale food resulted in a loss of revenue for Crepe Bistro, she added.

Jamba Juice was also losing money, Payne-Kirchmeier said. Some students reported that they liked JambaJuice’s concept and menu but were not opening their wallets for fruit smoothies that pushed the $7 mark.

NUSushi, on the other hand, consistently received positive feedback from students, earning a relocation rather than a replacement.

“There are some people in all of these concepts… that really liked it,” Payne-Kirchmeier said. “But by and large we’re looking to serve the majority of our students and that wasn’t happening with these three concepts.”

As NU administrators looked to change Norris’ dining options during Spring Quarter, Bayless’ company reached out to the University, Payne-Kirchmeier said.

“The more we listened to it, the more we realized the philosophy that Frontera has was the same as ours about food: high quality, organic, sustainable, responsible, fresh,” she recalled. “Students kept telling us they wanted it and that’s what they’re offering and that’s fantastic.”

Payne-Kirchmeier explained that the decision-making process included making sure the restaurant satisfied NU’s goal of serving all students. The University considered dietary restrictions, vegan and vegetarian needs, and whether it could secure sustainable products from local farmers, she said.

Unlike Chicago’s Frontera Grill — a sit-down restaurant that Bayless opened 25 years ago — Norris’ Frontera Fresco will feature different lines for freshly prepared foods, preprepared foods, and Intelligentsia coffee from the Chicago-based cafe.

The University hopes to have Bayless on hand when the Norris location is unveiled in late October, Payne-Kirchmeier said.

The Norris newcomers will be accompanied by an improved process for gathering student input on campus dining.

Payne-Kirchmeier said the University is working to establish an assessment system with Sodexo to monitor student, faculty and staff response to dining options across campus, not just in Norris. Focus groups, formal assessments, online comments and an improved Food Services Advisory Board will be used to gauge student response to new services, including next school year’s addition of North Shore Pizza Company.

“We listen to our students,” Payne-Kirchmeier said. “We want to make sure this is a quality experience for them.