New food options and more coming to student center as Mercer Culinary Group launches 

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A dining hall featuring tables and serving area. A sign says "Fresh Food Co. Come for the fresh food. Stay for the front-row experience."
The Fresh Food Co. Photo by Matt Smith

Big changes are coming to the Mercer University student dining experience this fall, including expanded meal options and contactless food pickup in the Connell Student Center. 

The improvements are part of a major rebranding of Mercer Dining to Mercer Culinary Group, signifying a strategic shift and expansion beyond traditional dining services. The rebranding, effective July 1, marks the group’s 35th anniversary serving Mercer.

logo shows a chef's knife crossed with a butcher's knife and the words "Mercer Culinary Group" underneath

“Aramark (the food service provider behind Mercer Culinary Group) has been on campus with us since 1989, and this is the most dynamic investment that they’ve made at Mercer University to enrich the campus experience,” said Ken Boyer, associate vice president for Auxiliary Services. 

This summer, the area where Which Wich was located is being transformed into The Drop, a virtual kitchen. The Drop will feature three different restaurant concepts that can be rotated out for new ones as students’ tastes change, said Ed Robertson, resident district manager of Mercer Culinary Group. 

“This gives us lots of versatility, so when we take surveys with the students and they say maybe we need an Asian concept on campus or we need a Mexican concept, we can do that,” he said. “So, in real time, we can get feedback and get what the students really want on campus.” 

This presentation slide shows an artist’s rendering of The Drop. Image courtesy Auxiliary Services

The restaurant concepts planned for the fall include The Spread, featuring chef-inspired signature subs and house-made spreads; Smokehouse 1833: Barbecue and Grill, featuring locally sourced smoked meats; and Beary Blends Fruit Smoothies and More, featuring fruit smoothies and acai bowls. 

Students will order from the restaurants at a kiosk or using the Transact Mobile Ordering app, which already offers mobile ordering for other retail dining locations on campus, like Chick-fil-A and Panda Express. Students will pick up their food from secure lockers. 

“Over 60% of consumers use takeout order or delivery once a week,” Boyer said. “What this new concept is going to do is to allow us to further enhance what we’ve already done with mobile ordering and order from different concepts that will be able to address the different culinary needs of students.” 

Along with Which Wich, Brewed Awakenings also is being replaced. Mercer Culinary Group is looking at installing a machine that can make custom coffee drinks and offer 24/7 availability, Robertson said. 

The Drop is the first piece of a multi-year renovation to the Connell Student Center. Renovations to the building’s entrances are in the design phase, including plans for a new entrance off Cruz Plaza, Boyer said.

artist's rendering shows a brick building with a modern entrance featuring glass doors and an overhang
This is an artist’s rendering of a new side entrance to Connell Student Center. Image courtesy Auxiliary Services

Improvements also are planned for the lobby and seating area on the main level of Connell, including modern collaborative spaces where students can eat and work. An expansion of Tot’s Corner, a cashier-less convenience store, is planned as well. 

“By thoughtfully integrating dining improvements into the broader renovation plan, the student center will become a more vibrant, functional and appealing hub for the entire campus community to enjoy,” said Shonda Lewis, marketing manager for Mercer Culinary Group. 

The rebranding is a culmination of years of work to enhance the student dining experience. 

This includes initiatives such as partnering with The Common Market to provide sustainable, local produce in the dining halls; offering a True Balance station that doesn’t use any of the top nine allergens; and providing the culinary team with professional development opportunities. 

Three chefs – Jimmy Brown, Vivian Byrd and Jarvis Napier – have achieved Pro Chef II certification for their advanced skills and dedication to the culinary arts. Byrd now is pursuing Pro Chef III certification. 

“This transformation should make Mercer among the best in class,” Robertson said. “With these exciting additions, we’re not just keeping up. We’re looking ahead to become the next in class.”

 

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Jennifer Falk
Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.