CSU’s Aspen Grille continues to serve fresh food in-house, with new take-out option

Student taking orders at a table of three to train on how to serve tables
Student training on how to serve tables.

Restaurants are some of the businesses most affected in this time of COVID-19, and Colorado State University’s on-campus, student-run restaurant is no exception. To adjust to the campus structure for the fall semester, the Hospitality Management Program is now offering food for take-out and the usual in-person dining with reduced capacity at the Aspen Grille. In light of the pandemic and CSU’s adjustments to meet public health guidance, the new food take-out service is designed to help keep students, faculty, and guests healthy.

The Aspen Grille is located in the Lory Student Center and serves as a classroom for hospitality management students. The menu will remain consistent and feature some specials throughout the semester that are all suitable for delicious take-out meals. Most of the menu items were created by hospitality management student Tess Housholder in collaboration with Chef Ken Symsack during her summer independent study. Under the leadership of instructors Josh Olson and Symsack, the students registered for the class this fall will run the restaurant following new classroom protocols, and with the addition of the new take-out option.

“Take-out has forever been dominated by pizza and Asian cuisine, which typically holds well in enclosed containers for extended periods,” said Symsack. “We hope to deliver various take-out food at close to the same quality as eating in the restaurant. We will do this by separating the components to ensure all the dish items remain at the temperature, texture, and consistency each is designed to be.”

Trying out take-out

sandwich and fries on table for tasting and serving practice
The Aspen Grille is offering many fresh and delicious options on this year’s menu.

The Aspen Grille will have take-out available Monday through Friday and dine-in seating Tuesday through Friday for students and campus visitors to enjoy. Mondays will be reserved for take-out orders only, with no dine-in seating. A table can be reserved using opentable.com or through the Aspen Grille’s website. The restaurant is accepting phone calls to place take-out orders as well – it can be reached at (970) 491-7006 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. All food is made to order and takes 20-30 minutes to complete. Take-out can also be ordered online through an ordering app.

With a new digital structure that includes ordering take-out online and reserving a table for dine-in, the hospitality program is excited to see how these methods in the classroom can be applied to the professional restaurant industry. Olson, who is also the restaurant operations manager, says the pandemic has made the restaurant industry rethink what trends happen in the business and how they can incorporate more digital options for guests.

“There is no substitution for in-person hospitality, but we will embrace this new role as a hybrid restaurant,” said Olson.

Adjusting to new health measures

Student cooking in the kitchen
Students have a chance to learn a variety of skills including how to cook and run a kitchen.

To prevent exposure to COVID-19, the Aspen Grille has implemented new health measures. Students will be split into pods of four to five per group and will work separately from the rest of the class. The students will all have a chance to work on the culinary team to prepare food for guests, on the front-of-house team, where they will learn how to serve tables and manage the dining room, and on the marketing team that also serves as the on-call team if a student cannot make it to class.

To help abide by Larimer County’s and CSU’s health protocols, the Aspen Grille is requiring all students to wear a face mask, remain six feet apart at all times, wash their hands regularly, and stay at home if they are feeling sick. The restaurant has reduced capacity in the dining room to 24 seats. Seating at the bar top will be closed and plexiglass barriers have been installed in various areas throughout the restaurant.

“While there will no doubt be challenges along the way, we are excited for our students to take ownership of this brand new operating style,” said Olson. “It’s going to be a real-world learning experience unlike any other to say the least.”

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.