The Preserve, a favorite dining option for many students, has been closed several blocks for renovation. While rumors of health code violations or worries that it would not open at all this year swirled around, Bon Appétit General Manager Randy Kruse and Sous Chef Matthew Butler were able to assuage anxiety around the rumors; no there was no health code violation, and yes, they are on track to reopen at the normal time after winter break. The salads at Benji’s will also be there to stay.
The reason for a renovation in the first place was to expand their operations and install a kitchen hood for stove tops. Hoods are important to remove airborne grease, combustion products, fumes, smoke, odors, heat, and steam from the air. The actual building space of the Preserve will stay the same size. However, upgrades behind the counter will make the experience overall more efficient and enjoyable to both dining hall staff and chefs, as well as student consumers.
Kruse began by saying they “outgrew the space,” but later corrected himself to say he meant that when the Preserve was able to scale up its operations and increase its popularity in recent years, students responded positively. As general manager, he wanted to make sure he acknowledged this success of the eatery and emphasized the opportunity to improve the space even further with better equipment.
“When they first started there it was kind of a coffee shop, a retail…we’re always trying to, as chefs, as a culinary company, be on the cutting edge of innovation,” said Butler. The chef continued to explain the importance of keeping things fresh for both students and chefs, to keep the passion alive and get new people to come down. He certainly didn’t want to try a new recipe only to be hindered by inadequate equipment.
The main reason for the new hood was because fans alone couldn’t keep up. “Our local Pike’s Peak chocolate was practically melting on the shelves,” said Butler. Simply speaking, it was really hot. Other improvements will work to make the whole operation less cluttered as preparing food also comes down to presentation. Having new counters and a deli shelf will help minimize the mess and expedite the process of getting your food. “We want to keep broadening what we give you… and not [fight] our food as we try to prepare it,” said Butler.
While the construction was supposed to be done around Block 3, the whole process ended up taking longer than expected. Much of it was beyond CC’s control as the construction entailed maintenance, contractors, and making sure the ordeal was in compliance with several codes. Colorado College submitted all their drawings and proposals before finding out that the hood couldn’t be near any combustible surfaces, such as the wood paneling that lined the interior of the dining hall area.
Furthermore, there is a great deal of “independence by committee,” as Kruse put it, meaning that each committee—a group in charge of a specific portion of the renovation—has their specialty and gets their work done, but sometimes things are lost in translation between them. The biggest challenge was making sure all permits were lined up correctly to ensure everyone’s safety. All those involved “are coordinating for this one project on top of all the other projects they have,” said Kruse.
Meanwhile, Butler says cooks “are chomping at the bit to get in there.” Specifically, there are plans for a chef from Rastall to come down to the Preserve to try out some new recipes. The daily main course will offer a more intricate dish creation than what you see at an all you can eat buffet like Rastall. “You don’t necessarily get the presentation you want,” said Butler.
Butler was also excited to announce that they will be trying some more comfort food dishes as well as international selections in the upcoming months. For Butler, the renovation has been a double edged sword, “[we’ve] had all this time to collect things [recipes] and now have to narrow it down.”
Many students had suggested that they would like to see some more flexible hours at the dining halls that remain open while The Preserve is renovated, as sometimes the traffic can be overwhelming. However, Kruse noted that at the beginning of the year they tried changing the hours a bit, but felt no tangible difference. He underscores Bon Appetit did take it under consideration, and did not want to skirt student concerns. One thing that has been “upped” to accommodate student demand are the “Grab and Go” options.
Chef Butler is in charge of Benji’s, the Preserve, and “Grab and Go” as of last year. “It’s a hard piece from a cook’s perspective, [you] don’t get the sight, the sound, the smell, of cooking. It’s great food… but then [it’s] packaged. We talked about what didn’t work out and what did and tried offering different items.”
Butler went on to explain that at the start of the school year the forecasted menu is double what they actually produce and goes through a scrutinizing process. He noted that the chefs do not necessarily see students eating these grab and go options in campus spaces, as people often head elsewhere with their food. Therefore, without supplementary student feedback it can be hard to gauge if people are truly enjoying the meals.
When the Preserve opens in January, they will welcome everyone back with some of their “hottest meals” in a grand reopening. Kruse encourages students to look out for more announcements as the date gets closer. Butler ended by saying that he and the rest of the staff realize how busy students’ days can get, but he wants to make sure they still get a good meal no matter the venue. They’re always mixing things up, and he hopes that, “from a culinary aspect it [the renovation] may make things smother.”
“As much as students don’t like lines, [that dislike] is double for those working it,” said Butler. “You eat with your eyes… we like to keep it as crisp as possible. If you walk into a space that is clean and well kept, it registers in your mind already that the food will be good. It’s all about limiting the amount of touches involved for the chef.”
Another big addition will be separating the pizza and the salad counter so it is easier to order instead of yelling over the big glass counter, making for what Kruse calls “a more efficient and hopefully a more pleasurable experience as you can see the person face to face.”
Both Kruse and Butler urge students to keep in touch, talk to Chef Butler or the cashiers and tell them what you’d like to see. They don’t go chasing every request, but aim to please the majority. Butler underscored his personal goal for the space with an analogy, “to make that Disney world line worth waiting for.”