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The University Club: The Myth and Truth of our School Restaurant

Hannah Jacobsen

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University Club by Yelp.com

The University Club Restaurant, located across from the bookstore, has played victim to numerous misconceptions. With outdoor and indoor seating options, linen-covered tables, a fully staffed kitchen, and a sit-down environment, many Cal State L.A. students have labeled this restaurant as taboo.

Daniel Keenan, Executive Chef for Cal State L.A., expressed “a misconception that this place is for faculty only. They look in the window, see linen on the table and believe they can’t afford it.“

In reality, this restaurant is open to the public, not only to students but to members of the surrounding community. It is priced to compete with the food options surrounding it and even offers a 10% discount to Cal State L.A. students.

On top of this student discount, the University Club has catered to student needs through its affordable breakfast program, which is open in the restaurant from Monday to Thursday, 7:30am to 10:00am.  According to Keenan, this program has been a long time coming, pursued in different incarnations over the last eight years. The biggest obstacle to establishing a program that operates over such a broad amount of hours was staffing. Keenan has run his operation with the intention of quality over quantity, growing organically and not pushing beyond its limits.

The solution began in spring of 2013 when Rebecca Wright, an undergraduate pursuing nutritional science, attended a community nutrition class. As a class assignment, they were to go out into the community and start their own project.

Wright explained that she already knew what she aspired to do:  “I noticed that our University Club did not open until 11:00 am so I found the executive chef for the school, sat down with him, and said I want to serve breakfast to the students every day at 7:30am.”

The Breakfast Club began as Wright showed up in the mornings with her friends and classmates to assist at a tent that opened outside at 8:00am. Over the following quarters it developed into a movement of students from nutrition and health disciplines who are dedicated to providing healthy and affordable food on campus.  This has led to Wright’s current job under Executive Chef Daniel Keenan. She recounts her success as a reinforcement of values she’d learned from watching her father start his own business.

“Two qualities he has, I think I inherited,” Wright acknowledged, “grand vision and extreme attention to detail.”         

She further lists the school’s own supportive atmosphere for her ability to build and market the Breakfast Club. In her Cal State L.A. experience, she has received go-aheads rather than denials. Due to this attitude, volunteers are able to receive this opportunity for career development in their related fields.

With this combination of 90 volunteers, coordinated by Wright, and a hard working set of University Club employees, the kitchen opens at six in the morning to squeeze orange juice, brew coffee, roll fresh burritos, and make the fresh homemade salsa that students and staff rave over. The breakfast is entirely to-go and priced for affordability, lending the Cal State L.A. community an amazing but little-known opportunity to get a good meal in them before the day begins.

The University Club and Wright have attempted to spread awareness of what their restaurant truly stands for. Wright even recounts one morning last spring when the marketing club made it a project to help the Breakfast Club spread awareness. They arrived at 5:30 am, blew up balloons, and wrote on the ground with chalk to draw attention.

“We’ve tried and tried to market” Wright laments, “but still 90% of students don’t know where or what the University Club is and 5% think it’s a club for faculty and staff. They’re intimidated to come into the restaurant and they don’t know that it’s open for breakfast, despite all my efforts.”

When asked how to fix this issue, both Wright and Keenan have expressed a wish for the University Club to be better explained during orientation tours, described as a sit-down open to students with discounts rather than labeled as “the fancy restaurant.”

Spreading awareness of these opportunities is a subject of great importance. Cal State L.A. is an isolated location in terms of food options. Many students commute, remaining on campus for the entire day with the choice of either buying campus food or losing their hard-won parking spot. In addition, Wright divulged that “of the incoming freshmen, 28% have a combined parental income of less than twenty thousand and we’re more impoverished than other Cal State campuses.”  Students here juggle school with full time jobs, families, and a towering pile of bills on the table. They deserve access to a hot meal for five dollars or under.

The University Club breakfast program, with the assistance of the Breakfast Club, provides an affordable solution for students searching through greasy, high-calorie options for meals that stretch neither their wallet nor their waistline.

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