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COFFEE BUZZ: Long-awaited CoHo renovation promises improved circulation, new bakery and even sushi

7.17.2009

By Dave Jones

Sharon Coulson, director of the Coffee House, says that with 7,000 people daily coming through the doors, "time has taken its toll." When it reopens in fall 2010, the CoHo will feature a remodeled central serving room, better seating, a new bakery and coffee bar, a new pizza and pasta bar, sushi and fruit smoothies. (Cheng Saechao/UC Davis)

The good news: An $8 million renovation and expansion is about to begin at the ASUCD’s Coffee House.

The not-so-good news: The Coffee House is scheduled to shut down July 31 for just over a year, to allow for the construction.

In the interim, the CoHo staff will set up shop elsewhere in and around the Memorial Union, offering a limited menu of pizza, deli sandwiches, salads, tacos, coffee, baked goods and other items — but no hot food line. A temporary kitchen is being set up in modular buildings just outside the MU, at the southeast corner (near the post office).

‘Better food service operation’

“We have to go through the pain to come out on the other end with a much better food service operation,” said Sharon Coulson, who signed on as Coffee House director in 1983. At that time, with the CoHo in the MU’s east wing, the customer count was 2,000 a day.

In 1990, the CoHo moved to its existing location in the west wing, and the customer count has grown to 7,000 a day, coinciding with the campus’s enrollment growth. As you can imagine, with that many people coming through, “Time has taken its toll on the facility,” Coulson said.

So, in 2004, the student body voted for the renovation, agreeing to add $8 a quarter to student fees to pay for the project.

In return, students and the rest of the campus community will get a completely redone central serving room, new and improved seating, a new bakery and coffee bar (in the “notch” on the MU’s south side), a new pizza and pasta bar — and almost all of the other foods that the CoHo serves now plus a couple of brand-new offerings: sushi made fresh daily, and fruit smoothies.

Dividing the project in pieces would require closing the CoHo in sections, taking more time and more money, Coulson said.

“We hope this year goes quickly,” she said. And she assures all of the CoHo’s loyal patrons: “We’ll be back.”

In the fall of 2010, she said, diners will find the central serving room in the same place, but with improved circulation — one way in and one way out, replacing today’s single door with two-way traffic.

The entry will be just north of where it is now, off the corridor through the MU’s west side. Food service will be provided all around the room’s perimeter: hot food line, deli sandwiches and bagels, salads, pho and sushi bar, and Tex-Mex grill. All the seating in this room will be removed.

Diners will exit to the south, through the area now occupied by the hot food line and the espresso bar. The wall behind the hot food line and espresso bar will come down, and diners will be funneled through a new bank of cash registers, leading into the two existing dining rooms on the MU’s south side.

Coulson said the dining rooms will feature more efficient seating: more tables for two, counters (with electricity for laptops) and bench seating.

The exterior “notch” between the two dining rooms will be enclosed, to make it part of the MU interior — and this is where the bakery and coffee-espresso bar will go. Actually, it will be an island, not a bar; the island also will be the sales point for ice cream and frozen yogurt and the CoHo’s new fruit smoothies.

Weekend operations

The pizza-pasta bar will also be on the south side of the MU, in the area now occupied by the deli. “We wanted something we could open on weekends, without having to open our whole operation,” said Darin Schluep, food service manager, who started working at the Coffee House as a student 13 years ago.

In other words, the Coffee House will be able to keep its central serving room locked down, while opening the south side dining rooms and the pizza-pasta bar.

The project also calls for electronic menu boards and earth-tone décor around the building. Behind the scenes, the kitchen and bakery will get some upgrades and new equipment; the kitchen is staying put, while the bakery is moving.

Despite her excitement about the new and improved Coffee House, Coulson said she is sad to see such a long shutdown. She knows full well how people view the CoHo as a UC Davis institution.

She has been the CoHo director for more than half of its 41-year history, overseeing its growth to a $4-million-a-year operation, from $800,000 a year when she took the helm in 1983.

‘Not closing’

“The CoHo isn’t closing, we’re just moving,” Coulson said. “We lose a little bit of what makes us special, the hot food line, but we will be doing as much as we can with our temporary kitchen and sales areas.”

She said Campus Copies-Classical Notes will be converted into the CoHo deli, for sandwich preparation and sales, and the book buyback room (across from the post office) will be turned into a convenience market of sorts, with prepackaged salads, premade sandwiches and self-serve beverages.

Baked goods and pizza will be prepared in the trailer kitchen; bakery and coffee sales will take place in what is now the Aggie Student Store, and pizza sales will be in what is now the post office.

Coulson asked people to “hang in there,” and, in return, she and her staff “will do as much as we can to keep our customers’ morale up.” She said she cannot promise anything at this time, because, until her crew settles in to the temporary kitchen, she will not how much they can get done in there.

But, if at all possible, she would like to offer soups and hot sandwiches and other specials.

Apart from the temporary kitchen, the CoHo plans to set up a grilling tent on the south side of the MU. Coulson said the tent crew will serve tacos (with grilled chicken) and grilled corn on the cob. In addition, the tent staff may prepare tri-tip sandwiches on Fridays.

Then, in the fall of 2010, “Everything we have now will be back,” Schluep said, with the exception of the self-serve salad bar. In its place, the CoHo will offer an assortment of specialty salads, plus grab-and-go packaged salads.

ON THE MOVE IN THE MU: All the east wing change to accommodate temporary quarters for various elements of the Coffee House.


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