Most students walk up and down Perimeter Road without giving any thought to what’s beneath them.
For 58 years, Campus Dining has made food for students underneath 19 Metro Station and The Avenue, preparing salads, meats and baked goods for distribution all over campus.
Graphic by Cecilia Seiter
A tour of the facility can resemble an episode of American Horror Story — white walls, slick red tiled floors and a generally cold environment. The main warehouse, situated at the street level entrance of the facility and connecting it to The Avenue and 19 Metro Station, is visible from the street. It’s from this warehouse that Starbucks gets its daily deliveries of food, milk and supplies; food trucks recharge their batteries in between runs; and all the produce consumed on campus gets delivered. It’s part-Costco, part-giant refrigerator and all part of the facility that is the prep side of Campus Dining.
Video by Olivia Proffit
The salad room
All of the “grab n’ go” items available for purchase at 19 locations across campus originate in the underground salad room, where each slice of fruit is cut by hand, sandwiches are prepared and yogurt parfaits are assembled.
James Danskin is a salad maker who works in the salad room of the underground facility. He said that some of the “grab n’ go” items are prepared in advance for the following day, while others are done the day of.
“A lot of these are dated for about two days, and then tomorrow we’ll finish wraps, we’ll finish sandwiches, the parfaits and the fresh fruit. We do this everyday,” Danskin said.
Graphic by Cecilia Seiter
Fruit is prepared on large tables in the room. While the tiles are still the same ones reminiscent of a cold facility, the room is full of color from the variety of fruit that wind up in the “grab n’ go” boxes.
Ellen Curtis, the director of marketing and communication for Cal Poly Corporation that oversees Campus Dining, has been with the university for more than two years.
She said that some workers start their shifts in the salad room at 5 a.m., with the last shift of workers staying busy until around 7 p.m.
“Because it’s an older facility, everything is done by hand, ” Curtis said.
The butcher shop
The salad room is just one division of the underground facility. There’s also a fully functioning butcher shop where fresh meat is prepared . The butcher shop provides meat for sandwiches at Campus Market, carne asada for the burrito bowls in The Avenue and hamburger patties.
“A lot of people think we just do frozen everything, but it’s a lot of fresh meat that comes here,” Curtis said as she showed off the grinder, sink and storage space for handling the meat.
Just down the hall from the butchery is the bakery, filled with workers dressed in white chef coats with the toque hat on their heads. The bakers prepare goods such as scones, cookies and croissants as early as 6 a.m. every day.
While the butcher shop is cold and sterile, the bakery is filled with aromas and warmth coming from the ovens. The scones found at Julian’s Patisserie, the cookies eaten at campus events and the desserts found in 19 Metro Station all start in the bakery.
The head chef
Overseeing the entire operation above and below ground is Associate Director and Executive Chef Michael Albright. He’s been with Campus Dining for five years and has recently assisted in the overhaul of the menu across the campus. Albright has worked in the restaurant industry for 35 years, including working in restaurants from Los Angeles to the Central Coast.
Recently that’s included the addition of acai bowls and kombucha in 19 Metro Express, located in the atrium of 19 Metro Station. The two menu items have become more popular with college students this year. Albright stresses that items such as these take time to implement — acai bowls, for instance, took a couple of tries to get right.
“If we can’t do it and do it right, we have to pass,” he said.
While most of the new recipes and services are still in their infancy, Curtis is already looking ahead to the next steps for Campus Dining.
“This is just the beginning to keep evolving because dining is trends and new students,” Curtis said.