By Kelline Linton, Chief Copy Editor
The new Bean pulsated with hungry crowds as students poured into line after Opening Chapel Monday.
Delia Lopez, a Bean employee who has worked in the new facilities since the beginning of the summer, said customer numbers were more than usual.
“I heard a lot of ‘it’s amazing’ and ‘wow’ from students,” she said.
The new Bean opened Aug. 9, and its first customers were football players.
“It had all sorts of food you could eat, and the pizza, burgers and barbeque chicken was good,” said football player A.J. Miller, freshman undeclared major from Mansfield.
Construction officially began on the Bean in the last week of April and was almost fully completed by Aug. 1. The general contractor who constructed the Bean in a timely 76 days was Scot Colley, an in-house employee who works at Physical Resources.
“Scot did an outstanding job at putting things together,” said Anthony Williams, Chief Auxiliary Services Officer of ACU.
One part still to come to the new dining hall is a digital menu at each station that displays the food items being served and the nutritional breakdown for each item. This will be ready by Oct. 1.
“Students can choose an entrée and be educated about what they put in their bodies,” Williams said.
Although the university budgeted $3.6 million for the total Bean initiative, it ended slightly under budget after the majority of the construction was completed.
The process in conceiving the new Bean took two and half years of thought and planning through 4,000 online student surveys, seven focus groups, 423 palm pilot surveys and numerous visits to other campuses.
Improvements in the Bean have been governed by the feedback of those the Bean serves, Williams said.
“We asked what we could do to create an exceptional dining experience, and the result is the dining hall we have now,” Williams said. “The new Bean represents three things-it is exceptional, innovative and a part of an authentic culinary experience.”
The Bean consists of several food stations such as international, produce, pizza, grill, home cooking and sandwiches.
Williams himself loves the international station, “but my wife would want me to say the produce market is my favorite,” he said.
“The Bean offers something Anthony Williams would like and John Q or Susie Q would also like,” he said.
The international and home cooking stations have a four week menu, which means main entrees will not repeat for at least four weeks, but the grill and pizza stations basically serve the same food each day.
Beside the quality in food, the people who prepare the food also have improved.
The Bean boasts Abilene’s only graduate of the Culinary Institute of America; this experienced chef prepares the food at the international station.
“Culinary Institute of America is the Harvard of culinary schools,” Williams said.
It also has other experienced chefs on staff like a graduate from the New England culinary school, a certified sous chef and a Food Service Director who also graduated from a culinary school.
“We have four highly trained culinary professionals; if you looked at a school our size and tried to identify another school that has those kind of qualifications, I think you would come up with an impressive appraisal of our food service operation,” Williams said.
The new Bean implements an innovative concept when it comes to food preparation-Real Food on Campus. RFOC is where workers prepare fresh food in front of students. This was done in direct response to student surveys, and the Bean staff already has gone through extensive training and been certified in the Real Food concept, Williams said.
“Today’s students don’t want a cafeteria, they want a restaurant; we have gotten rid of the cafeteria, and now we have a restaurant,” Williams said. “We’ve had a significant transformation in the way we present our dining hall.”
The new Bean also creates an opportunity to experience community with secluded seating and group seating.
“There’s something about sitting around a table with friends, eating good food and just talking,” Williams said.
The added square feet is convenient for crowded lines of hungry customers.
“This place has expanded, and more space is the best part,” said football player Tony Metoyer, junior criminal justice major from Taylor.
Joel Swedlund, Campus Center manager, ate at the old Bean on a regular basis and thinks he may eat at the new Bean even more because it’s convenient, affordable and the variety and quality of food has improved.
“It’s always nice to upgrade things a little bit,” Swedlund said.
The new Bean hours also may change in the future as the administration considers expanding them, Williams said.
Students can now eat at the Bean during operational hours if they have a meal plan. Although the meal plan prices are higher this year, they have been adjusted to reflect the increased price of food. Base essentials like corn, dairy, bread and eggs have increased in price by nearly 18 percent, but the meal plan cost was not augmented enough to cover this increase fully. Students who want to purchase a meal plan can go to www.acu.campusdish.com or can sign up at the Meal Plan table in the Campus Center. Anyone who buys a meal plan by Sep. 5 will be entered in a drawing for a $125 Target gift card. The winner will be announced at the Grand Opening of the Bean on Sep. 8.
The Grand Opening is themed “A Texas-sized Celebration of Food.” From noon to 1:30 p.m. is the ribbon cutting ceremony, from 1-5 p.m. is a giveaway in the Campus Center that will include T-shirts, prizes and free passes for the nighttime celebration in the Bean (for students without a meal plan) and from 5-7 p.m. is the party in the Bean that includes Texas-themed food, a Wii tournament, chef showdown and talent showcase. Students can sign up to participate in the tournament or talent show at the Meal Plan table in the Campus Center.
With all the changes and improvements, the Bean may become the social destination.
“I challenge anyone to locate a dining hall in the Southwest that looks and acts like our dining hall,” Williams said. “Even nationwide, you would be hard pressed to identify a dining hall like the one we have here.”