Take a walk around Elon University’s campus. Step in front of the Alamance Building and amble across campus toward the School of Communications. Walk behind Sloan Hall and enter the brick building to the left of the abandoned basketball hoop.
Open the front door, turn left and walk up 25 steps. Make another left when you get upstairs, and you’ve arrived.
You are now in a bleak room with dim lighting, a limited menu and virtually no students. You have entered McEwen Dining Hall — home to just 250 customers a day.
“I almost never eat at McEwen,” said sophomore Conner Elliott-Knaggs. “It’s just out of my way because I live in the Loy Center. I usually go to Lakeside or Colonnades for simplicity’s sake. McEwen’s just generic, nothing too exciting.”
McEwen Dining Hall, along with its retail counterparts Chick-fil-A and Varsity Sports Grill, has largely been an abandoned part of Elon’s campus with dwindling interest over the past several years.
In the wake of low turnout and demands for better dining options, the university and Aramark have made plans for a $12 million construction project during the 2016-2017 academic year to overhaul McEwen’s current dining facilities.
Acorn Coffee Shop will remain on campus next academic year, and Chick-fil-A will return in fall 2017 and be joined by a plethora of new options. Some of the highlights include Pei Wei, a fast-casual division of P.F. Chang’s serving authentic Asian cuisine, and Knead, a Panera-style bakery cafe.
Greens & Grains, an expansive salad bar, Clean Juice, a fresh smoothie bar and Home & Away, an Italian, Greek and Mediterranean establishment, will also be located in the reinvigorated McEwen Dining area.
“McEwen’s going to be offline for a year,” said Chris Fulkerson, assistant vice president for administrative services and assistant professor of communications. “It’s going to be painful. But what we get out of it is going to be so much better.”
Among the difficulties student and faculty diners will face will be the one-year absence of Chick-fil-A and the permanent removal of Varsity.
“Taking Chick-fil-A away my senior year is gonna be a bummer,” said junior Chris Edwards. “Chick-fil-A is something that is easy and quick to go ... In terms of Varsity being shut down, I feel like that’s just destroying part of the Elon community.”
In addition to the closings of Chick-fil-A and Varsity, there will be ongoing construction and noise around the Historic Neighborhood area.
The expansion of the School of Communications has been underway throughout the academic year and Schar Hall is expected to be completed by fall 2016, according to School of Communications Dean Paul Parsons.
Sloan Hall will also be undergoing construction this summer. Upon completion of Sloan Hall, construction on the new McEwen Dining facilities will begin Sept. 1.
Because Pei Wei will operate where the current basketball court is, Fulkerson said noise should not be an issue for students in classes.
“There aren’t any classrooms [on the side of the School of Communications building facing the current McEwen Dining area], so I don’t think it’s gonna be too much of a distraction,” Fulkerson said. “The actual building addition [for Pei Wei] is on the opposite side [by the basketball court].”
But for students living in Sloan Hall next year on the side facing Williamson Avenue, noise could be a major issue along with a view that is less than ideal. Construction generally starts around 7:30 or 8 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m., according to Fulkerson.
Though construction has its share of obstacles, Fulkerson said he looks forward to seeing students’ reactions when they first walk into the new McEwen dining facilities.
The first floor will feature four facilities, while the second floor will feature two based on floor plans that are still subject to change.
When students walk through the front door, they will have access to two lines at Knead. One line will be for grab-and-go options for customers while another line will allow students access to three all-you-can-eat stations — Knead, Home & Away and Greens & Grains. Pei Wei will be a retail option located on the upper right corner of the first floor.
The second floor will include Clean Juice and Chick-fil-A. Meal exchanges will be allowed at both retail options. Clean Juice will be open daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m., and Chick-fil-A will be open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
In an effort to open up the building and establish a more communal environment, Fulkerson said there will be an atrium connecting both floors with some sort of representation of an oak tree going from the first floor up to the second floor.
“First, we thought about a live oak tree growing up the middle,” Fulkerson said. “But that has maintenance issues. It’ll finally go through the roof. So we’re going to do some kind of representation.”
According to Fulkerson, Elon is planning on quadrupling the first floor capacity from 100 to 400, while cutting the second floor capacity from 225 to 100.
There will also be a wider variety of seating types to meet students’ needs. Floors are expected to have a combination of couches, high-top and low-top tables, family-style tables, private collaborative rooms and secluded study spaces.
If all goes as planned, the new dining facilities will open by August 2017. Because of the absence of Chick-fil-A, Varsity and the McEwen Dining Hall, other residential areas will have to pick up the slack.
Fulkerson said the university is planning on opening a Company Shops Market (Co-Op) facility in Park Place in September 2016. At the Co-Op, customers could buy local produce, order sandwiches and use meal exchanges. Elon has tried negotiating with the Co-Op for a couple years and is finally close to reaching a deal.
“I think it’s going to go gangbusters here at Elon,” Fulkerson said. “They’ve got a captive audience of all the faculty, staff and students, not to mention a lot of town folks who want to buy locally grown food. I think it’s a niche that would work out really well. That’s what we keep telling them, and hopefully they’ll come through.”
The university is also planning on installing two food trucks Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to accommodate customers who tend to eat in the Historic Neighborhood. All Access swipes will be accepted. The two food trucks along with the placement of the food trucks have yet to be determined.
According to Fulkerson, Elon is primarily considering whether to put the food trucks somewhere in the Academic Village or in the Mooney lot.
While hours are still waiting to be finalized at all potential expansion sites, Fulkerson said there would be no 24/7 food service available next academic year.
Fortunately for students and faculty, there will be continuous service during the 2016-2017 academic year 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays in Lakeside Dining Hall.
The Colonnades Dining Hall will be open for brunch and dinner on the weekends 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-8 p.m. on weekdays.
Fulkerson recognized there are a handful of students who wake up early on the weekends who have complained about residential options opening late in the day. Though three retail locations — Acorn Coffee Shop, Biscuitville and Einstein Bros. Bagels — open at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, there is no residential option for students who don’t have the luxury of using meal exchanges or meal dollars.
He said the university will likely decide not to open residential facilities earlier because there is only about a dozen students an hour who would visit those facilities. Fulkerson said the university is currently exploring ways to address this problem without opening a dining hall.
“What if we open Biscuitville to All-Access for those two hours?” Fulkerson said. “Or what if we do a concierge table to just come and get a breakfast bar or one of those cereal packs? How do we meet that need without opening a big dining hall?”
Fulkerson said he has also heard concerns of Late Night at McEwen closing.
While the location will be closed because of construction, Fulkerson explained there will still be a Late Night at Lakeside in place of McEwen.
“It’s very popular,” Fulkerson said. “Several years ago, there was a Presidential Task Force on alcohol and they said we need to have food, so we give students an option late at night to have a place to go before drinking or after drinking.”
Several of the proposed plans have emerged in response to a survey emailed to all students in October 2015. The survey asked students about campus food needs and brand preferences. Of the 1,609 responses collected, the largest group of respondents were freshmen living in the Historic Neighborhood — this was the target demographic.
Twenty percent of respondents selected Asian cuisine as the No. 1 underserved and/or needed food category on campus. The next two top choices were grocery/convenience store, and coffee/breakfast at 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively. This survey played a factor in the decisions to add Pei Wei and Knead.