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The Coffee House is back!

By Dave Jones on October 20, 2010 in University News

The new and improved Coffee House
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Photos by Martin Wong and Karin Higgins/UC Davis

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The reviews are in, and most of them are giving five stars to the ASUCD Coffee House, which reopened Oct. 11 after a renovation project that shut down the UC Davis culinary landmark for more than a year.

“The wait was miserable, but it was worth it,” said Lucy Bunch, the campus’s assistant budget director, who spoke with Dateline between bites of quiche and green salad on Oct. 19.

Her lunch companion, Katherine Perrone, chief administrative officer for the arts administrative group, said of the new CoHo: “The food is great (she was eating a taco salad), there are more choices, there is more seating ... .”

“And more standing,” Bunch chimed in, referring to the pub-style table where she and Perrone had landed. The tall tables are new; they are in a new, small dining area opposite the main dining rooms.

The Coffee House moved to its present location in the Memorial Union’s west wing in 1990. Time and a growing enrollment took a toll — leading to the renovation and expansion that cost about $8 million. Students voted in 2004 to boost their fees by $8 a quarter to pay for the project.

Most people will never see some of the renovation work — in the kitchen. But, outside, where you get your food, the place is all new — and people are liking what they see: the stainless steel counters, the fresh paint and tile work, the bright neon signs, new tables and chairs, counters and casual, comfy seating areas, including booths.

“It’s fabulous,” Bunch said.

The Coffee House has put all but two of its food stations in the same place, compared with the old CoHo where people who came in together often found themselves splitting up to go to different parts of the building — for pizza, another hot meal or an espresso in one room, or a deli sandwich, pho or regular coffee in another.

The main serving room — the Marketplace — features a circular layout and improved circulation, with a separate entry and exit, compared with the old Coffee House where people came in and left through the same doorway.

The exit leads into a new checkout zone and from there you can walk across the corridor to the dining rooms on the south side of the MU.

Dan Parfitt, a pomologist in the Department of Plant Sciences, said the CoHo gained checkout efficiency in the main serving room, and lost some at the coffee and bakery bar.

“Overall, though, I’m happy to have the Coffee House back, especially now with winter approaching,” he said, explaining how people need a place where they can get out of the elements for lunch or coffee.

‘Always a good choice’

Parfitt had no complaints about his curry pho. “This, of course, is always a good choice,” he said. "It's the same as it was a year ago."

Chris Satterlee, who works in customer service at the bookstore, said, “I miss the salad bar,” but otherwise he said he is happy with the new Coffee House.

Croutons is the new place for salads. So far, Croutons is selling green and Caesar salads, with two new options: grilled chicken breast or wild salmon filet.

Still to come: macaroni, potato, pasta and other deli-style salads, to be sold by the ounce.

“We are making small improvements each and every day, in back and in front,” said Sharon Coulson, the Coffee House director. “And we will get better and better.”

For at least one group of UC Davis employees, everything got better Oct. 15, the first Friday since the CoHo’s reopening. “We like the chicken tetrazzini, and they serve it on Fridays, so that’s when we go,” said Karin Higgins, the university photographer.

Among the people who join her each week are Kristin Burns of Admissions, Melissa Haworth of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and Lisa Wells of University Communications.

They aren't the only ones who like the chicken "tet." It is so popular that the CoHo sent out a "tet" tweet last week — announcing the treat's return.

You will find the tetrazzini and other CoHo casseroles at the newly named Cooks Homestyle Favorites.

The other food stations also have new names:

TxMx — the Tex-Mex grill

The Fickle Pickle Deli — sandwiches and bagels

Chopstixx — the CoHo's popular pho bar, plus something new: sushi made fresh daily

All of these, plus Croutons, are in the Marketplace. The Swirlz coffee-bakery bar and Ciao Pizza and Pasta are off the corridor between the main serving room and the dining rooms.

More seating than before

In creating the Marketplace, the Coffee House removed all the seating from the main serving room. And while you might think there is less overall seating than before, that is not the case.

The new inside seating count is 432, compared with 384 before, and the outside count is 188, compared with 94 (although not all the outside seating is in yet).

The CoHo gained 60 seats alone by putting counters and chairs all around the new Swirlz. It fills the “notch” between the two large dining rooms on the MU’s south side, in a space that used to be outside but is now inside.

The Swirlz crew works from an island with different stations for coffee and espresso drinks, baked goods, and ice cream, frozen yogurt and something new: fruit smoothies. After you get what you want, you go to another section of the island to pay.

Parfitt’s view notwithstanding, the Swirlz checkout system worked efficiently on the day Dateline came to visit, when we watched as Vice Chancellor Fred Wood navigated around the island for a coffee refill and a treat: “the best oatmeal raisin cookie in the world.”

(Full disclosure: Wood leads Student Affairs, which works with the ASUCD to run the Coffee House. Oh, and he actually bought two oatmeal raisin cookies, one for him, one for this Dateline reporter.)

Wood said he visits the CoHo almost daily. “I love the energy here,” he said, while surveying the bustling dining rooms, filled mostly with students. “I like interacting with them.”

The vice chancellor also interacts with the Coffee House crew — almost all of them students.

“At most universities, food service is not necessarily one of the most popular jobs,” Wood said. “But, year after year, the CoHo is where people want to work.”

Indeed, the CoHo crew is like family — as Coulson can tell you after 28 years as director.

Now, with the new Coffee House up and running, its staff is home again. And so is the rest of the campus community.

How much do you know about the Coffee House, then and now? Take our quiz.

Get the next "tet" tweet, by following the Coffee House on Twitter: @UCDCoffeeHouse.

Earlier coverage: "Long-awaited CoHo renovation promises improved circulation, new bakery and even sushi" (July 17, 2009)

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,