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Tasty Treats Part of Dining Expansion

February 12, 2008

Whether your are looking to have a hearty meal and relax at the end of a long day or just need to grab a quick cup of coffee before the day even begins, UC Merced’s dining center has just the recipe and atmosphere to satisfy.

And now it has just a little bit more.

“We are offering more services, more menu items,” said Jason Souza, general manager of UC Merced’s dining services.

The Yablokoff-Wallace Dining Center is under construction while it remains open for business to bring students and staff a wider variety of services and menu options.

The dining expansion includes adding an extra 8,500 square feet to the building and creating a new dining room, which will seat 250 people in addition to an outdoor patio. This will almost double the center’s dining capacity.

A new prep area will be installed and a whole new grill behind the Caliente food section will replace the current grill, which will be turned into a stir fry section.

Staff will have additional space and refrigeration to store goods along with new equipment and an edible garden filled with herbs to use in recipes, further emphasizing the dining center’s commitment to sustainability.

“What I’m most happy about is that we are going to be using real china. I dislike how many disposable dishes we go through,” Souza said. “Sustainability is very important to our department and is something we are always working on.”

Souza said the entire dining services staff is excited about all the changes that are occurring and are trying to minimize the impact on students. A temporary wall was built to hide the construction, and much of the work began over winter break.

Souza said he anticipates that major invasive construction will happen when the campus empties for vacations.

Although the full work won’t be completed until just before the fall 2008 semester begins, students attending UC Merced this semester are privy to a few treats, a sneak peek of what is to come.

“This semester we will be focusing on nutrition and marketing what services we do offer,” Souza said.

Souza said he hopes many of the 2,000-plus meals the dining center serves a day will be the new gourmet panini offered this semester, a high-end meal that’s already been a hit. Workers assemble close to 60 of the Italian grilled sandwiches each day, and they sell out within two hours.

The Lantern Cafe, on the first floor of the Kolligan Library, has also undergone a few changes. Additional pre-packaged menu items will be available for sale, but the biggest enhancement is that the café now brews its own coffee. This makes life a lot easier for staff and patrons, who previously relied on coffee deliveries from the dining center.

And the creation of an “exact-change” line makes buying that cup a lot more convenient, too.

“It functions on an honor system,” Souza said.  “You drop in your change, pour yourself a cup of coffee and you’re on your way.”

The cafe and dining center expansion was a project that has been years in the planning, Souza said, but it took the presence of students to help staff figure out what was truly needed.

“The expansion was largely based on customer demand and efficiency,” Souza said.  “We hope to become more of a social hub for the residents and campus community as a whole.”

The dining center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Lantern Café is open 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.