Old Brown Cafeteria returning to life as contemporary dining facility with ‘mountain lodge’ feel

The exterior of the renovated Brown Hall will feature native stone and expanses of glass alongside the building’s existing brickwork. (Architectural rendering provided by Watson Tate Savory Inc.)

Students returning to Western Carolina University for the 2017 fall semester will find that their on-campus dining choices have increased significantly when the old Brown Cafeteria, shuttered in 2010 as a food-service operation, roars back to life as a spacious mountain lodge featuring national brands and multiple serving stations offering complete meals.

Recently rechristened as Brown Hall, the 56-year-old, 30,240-square-foot structure is in the final stages of a $22.5 million renovation and expansion project that will add another 25,000 square feet. The end result will be a modern student dining facility with additional office space for the departments of Residential Living, Campus Services and Student Community Ethics; some flexible swing space that could support limited student activities; and a convenience store.

Culinary highlights of the building include a full-service Starbucks, the first Steak ‘n Shake west of Asheville and a food court with up to eight serving stations, including a smokehouse. Architecturally speaking, Brown Hall will include an exterior fire pit and water feature; a large, two-sided fireplace; wooden ceilings and giant community tables made of reclaimed wood; and an outdoor rooftop terrace offering al fresco dining.

“The new and improved Brown Hall will enable Western Carolina to meet the growing needs of our growing student body” said Sam Miller, WCU vice chancellor for student affairs. “Our students have told us they want to see more food service options available to them on campus. By bringing Brown back online and through the variety of offerings we will have there and at other venues, we are responding to that student feedback.”

The facility’s decor is designed to complement its setting on the historic hill area of campus, said Keith Corzine, WCU assistant vice chancellor for campus services. “The spine of the building features a high, wood-paneled ceiling that leads to a large, two-sided stone fireplace surrounded by tables, chairs and rugs to give the whole place the vibe of a mountain lodge,” Corzine said. “We want visitors to the building to feel like they’re up in the hills, they’re in the woods, and they’re enjoying a delicious meal or simply unwinding in a comfortable environment.”

Students will enter the building through two main entrances – one facing the lower end of campus, which will provide access by elevator or stairs to the dining establishments on the building’s top floor; and the other facing the upper end of campus through a new plaza area near the current Buchanan Residence Hall.

Adjacent to Brown Plaza will be a stand-alone Starbucks, which will be open six days a week, Sunday through Friday, while just inside the main building will be a Steak ‘n Shake, which will be open from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with seating for 80 people, said Scott Lamond, resident district manager for Aramark, WCU’s food service partner.

“Brown Plaza is going to be a really cool place for students to hang out, with outdoor furniture, a water feature and a fire pit. We will have lots of activities going on in this new plaza area, and we truly envision this as a space where students can gather and relax or study,” Lamond said.

Brown Hall will include a food court with a cashier’s station in the middle and five to eight food stations offering different dining options, including a smokehouse grill, in the form of complete meals. The food court in Brown is designed to provide a different experience than what students have at Courtyard Dining Hall, Lamond said.

“We’re not going to have things like a make-your-own salad bar or a create-your-own sandwich deli station in Brown,” he said. “If you are looking for things like that, you can still find them at Courtyard. At the stations in Brown, you will walk up to get a complete meal, and it’s a one-stop shop offering featured salads, featured sandwich combinations and featured meals.”

The unlimited meal plan will allow unlimited access into Brown Hall, just like it does at Courtyard Dining Hall. “Because the unlimited plan offers unlimited meals, it is just for the card-holder. Students cannot swipe in friends or guests unless they use their exchange meals or their declining balance plan,” Lamond said.

The interior of the building’s third-floor dining area will feature a few community tables that can be reserved by student and faculty groups and organizations, and a dining area that can be closed off for special events and activities. “Because these spaces make up a large portion of the available seating for the food court and to eliminate over-crowding, we will have to be selective of when and how often these spaces can be reserved,” Lamond said.

A rooftop terrace with outdoor patio furniture and soft seating will offer views of the recently opened Noble Hall and the lower section of campus.

The second floor of the building will contain offices and meeting space for the departments of Residential Living, Student Community Ethics, Campus Services and Aramark’s dining, catering and events teams.

“Long-term, we needed a new home for Residential Living and other Division of Student Affairs offices currently housed in Scott Hall,” Corzine said. “Residential Living committed $2.5 million to the project to make this office space possible.” The entire project was significantly enhanced by a $4 million capital contribution made by Aramark during renegotiation of the food services contract in 2013-14, he said.

The fireplace room, featuring wood paneled ceilings and a two-sided stone fireplace, promises to be a highlight of Brown Hall. (Architectural rendering provided by Watson Tate Savory Inc.)

The building’s first floor will provide entrance to a convenience store, and access to the elevator and steps to reach the second and third floors, as well as a cooler room where post-consumer food waste will be stored and recycled for use by a local pig farmer.

Dining operations moved out of the structure in 2010 when Courtyard Dining Hall opened its doors in the central campus area, but the continuous increase in student enrollment since then meant that the university quickly outgrew that facility, Corzine said.

“There is a lot of institutional history in Brown Cafeteria, and many of our alumni will have fond memories of the place,” he said. “We think that alumni will have an appreciation for the fact we were able to salvage this building and give it new life as a facility that is better-equipped to serve today’s students.”

University officials anticipate taking occupancy of the building in the middle of May and opening up various food-service venues on a staggered schedule throughout the summer, with the entire facility fully functional in time for the opening of the school year in August.

Unlike Noble Hall, the Brown Hall project does not include student housing. Plans are now in the works for a project that will either renovate or replace the existing Buchanan Residence Hall, located adjacent to Brown.

Aramark will begin hiring approximately 170 associates in April to work in Brown Hall, including at Starbucks, Steak ‘n Shake, the convenience store and the food court. Application information is available online at www.aramark.com/careers.

For more information about the dining options coming to Brown Hall, contact Kristin Spears, WCU Campus Dining marketing coordinator, at 828-227-3778.