Colleges reap the benefits of branding their campuses with fine dining.
In 2010, the University of Southern California readied for a foodservice facelift.
The Los Angeles–based institution, best known for churning out Hollywood stars and football pros, joined with its USC Hospitality arm to unveil more than a dozen new restaurants on campus. In addition to grab-and-go spots and quick-service eateries—the traditional backbone of campus foodservice—the university also launched an unexpected offering to replace an existing café in its Campus Center building: a fine-dining concept called the Moreton Fig.
With the help of pioneering chef Bradley Ogden and his Lark Creek Restaurant Group, USC Hospitality created an upscale restaurant far beyond the coffee, sandwich, and burger outlets that dominate university dining.
Flanked by the school’s historic Moreton Bay Fig trees, the undeniable inspiration for the restaurant’s name, the Moreton Fig dishes up seasonal farm-to-table cuisine in a stylish, contemporary setting that is rare to find amid dorm towers, classrooms, athletic fields, and frat houses.
“We wanted to take it up a notch for our students, faculty, and staff, and the Moreton Fig brings flair and panache to campus,” USC assistant vice president of retail operations Kris Klinger says of the 135-seat restaurant that also features a 12-seat private dining room and a 120-seat patio.
In its five years of operation at the center of the USC campus, the Moreton Fig has become a popular destination for faculty and staff, students and alumni, visitors and external powerbrokers, helping the private university show itself as a lively, dynamic institution on the cutting edge.
“Our goal with USC Hospitality is to help create the best and most unique USC experience we can and to differentiate the campus and the university,” Klinger says. “Moreton Fig provides this and when we’re hosting visiting faculty or prospective students, we believe the Moreton Fig is something that can help tip the scales.”
USC, it turns out, isn’t alone in its desire to bring chic dining to campus.
Across the country, numerous universities have entered the fine-dining genre with white tablecloths, extensive wine programs, and ambitious menus more befitting urban centers than campus quads, adding both a sophisticated touch and an element of surprise.
Fine Dining Meets Higher Ed
Just as Paul McGowan was touring colleges with his teenage daughter back in 2006, he coincidentally learned of a real estate opportunity on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut. A former executive with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, McGowan, owner of Hospitality 3, embraced the opportunity to transform an old, tired campus hotel into a contemporary spot befitting Yale’s Ivy League grandeur.
Though the lodging possibilities were the initial attraction for McGowan, he soon envisioned a modern property hosting an upscale restaurant as well.