Although it took nearly a year longer than originally anticipated, the food court in A.K. Hinds University Center is now officially closed following the relocation of Western Carolina University’s Chick-fil-A operation into a larger full-service venue on the ground floor of Courtyard Dining Hall over the summer.
The space previously occupied by the smaller “Chick-fil-A express” and other food service operations in the University Center food court will eventually provide additional space for staff and programming for the Division of Student Affairs.
“With the university’s steady growth in enrollment comes an increase in the need for more student programming and additional student activities,” said Keith Corzine, assistant vice chancellor for campus services. “The new food service venues available since the opening of Brown Hall last fall, with a Steak ‘n Shake and Starbucks, combined with the restaurants and food choices available in Noble Hall, including Chili’s, have enabled us to close the food court without a decrease in campus dining options.” Food options also are available in independently operated Subway and Madstone Cafe operations in Noble Hall.
The full-service Chick-fil-A opened July 16 in space formerly occupied by McAlister’s Deli, which closed its doors at the end of the 2017 spring semester. The university and Aramark, WCU’s food service partner, had expected the popular chicken franchise to relocate to the Courtyard Dining Hall sometime last fall, but the project to renovate the McAlister’s space was more complicated and more expensive than initial estimates, Corzine said.
The closure of the University Center food court also has resulted in the loss of a store front for the campus Papa John’s pizza venue, which will continue offering delivery and catering service as well as single slices for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday at the two main provisions-on-demand on campus in Brown and Courtyard halls. Einstein Bros. Bagels will continue to operate in the University Center on the opposite side of the building from the now-closed food court.
To help fill some of the void created by the departure of McAlister’s, a new venue called Comfort Corner in late 2017 took over space in Courtyard once occupied by Burger Studio and is offering sandwiches, soups, baked potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and salads. In addition, the sushi options that were available in the UC food court now will be available at Comfort Corner and for grab-and-go at campus convenience stores and at the two Java City locations.
The shuffling of food service options on campus is all part of a strategic effort to be sure WCU offers an array of choices to meet the nutritional needs and satisfy the widely divergent tastes and preferences of the contemporary WCU student population, Corzine said.
“This is all about our ability to provide the best quality food service that we can to our students, including offering them the top national brands they have come to know and love,” he said. “Some of our students prefer the variety of our all-you-care-to-eat Courtyard Dining Hall upstairs location, some want the convenience of grab-and-go from our c-stores and provisions-on-demand venues, and some like the familiarity of that national brand and knowing that the menu they see on campus mirrors the menu at the place back home.”
With the food court now out of operation, current plans call for the vacated space to be utilized by the Department of Campus Activities within the Division of Student Affairs, said Jeff Hughes, director of campus activities.
“Our plans call for moving Student Government Association offices currently located on the second floor of the University Center into the old food court area,” Hughes said. “This move also will provide expanded space for our registered student organizations. And we are looking at relocating our Office of Student Involvement staff into that area.”
Before those moves can take place, however, the old food court configuration must be removed and the space converted into offices, meeting rooms and collaborative work areas, he said. The projected time line for completion of those renovations is late spring or early summer of 2020.
In addition, the anticipated closing of Scott Hall in the summer of 2020 will force the relocation of several members of the Division of Student Affairs, including Vice Chancellor Sam Miller, who have offices on the ground floor of that building. Those administrators likely will move into a third-floor office suite in Hinds University Center.