Forward-thinking design provides a popular, fresh update for college dining

The new Subway Fresh Forward restaurant offers inviting atmosphere along with wholesome, customizable options

 Gone are the precooked burgers and warmed-over chicken patties that once dotted the college dining hall landscape. 

“Today it’s all about freshness, healthy food cooked to order, and customization,” says Mike Purcell, president of CulinArt Group, which recently took over the dining options at a large public university in the northeast. “Students want to know where products come from and what’s in them.”

These demands are easily met with the new Subway Fresh Forward design, which made its college debut this past fall at the university—and hits all the right notes.

“Subway has new ovens and new procedures,” Purcell explains. “We’re cutting vegetables closer to use time so products are fresher. We bake bread six times a day. Subway standards fit well with CulinArt’s approach of food first and freshness of product. It’s aligning quite nicely with the other concepts in the food court.”

The university has two dine-in centers and another 20 retail concepts such as an Asian buffet, Tuscan bistro and a ramen station. CulinArt recently renovated four facilities, including the one housing Subway, with the goal of providing good-quality, diverse, multicultural and fresh foods, all of which include ingredient and allergen labels. 

“We wanted to breathe some new life into the retail operations,” Purcell says. “We have some concepts that focus on a la minute preparation (made-to-order) with customization and freshness. We brought a lot of those concepts into the various retail locations, so when students came back, there was a ‘Wow!’ factor at every location.” 

The results? 

“It’s been very successful,” Purcell says. “We are tracking at about a 17 percent lift in sales across campus at this point over the last year and previous provider.”

Subway is getting particular notice, he says. “With the new concept and design, it’s a much more contemporary and inviting space. The color palette is more vibrant. The seating is very comfortable, and there are charging stations for phones and laptops.”

Fresh Forward also includes digital menu boards and Apple and Samsung Pay options, along with a separate food preparation area and pre-order pick-up location. Updated food displays highlight whole tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and onions until they’re needed for slicing, along with new sauces and toppings such as house-made pickles, and gluten-free bread. 

“Feedback from students has been outstanding,” Purcell says. “They get to use their meal exchange, and the traffic is strong throughout the day—breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

It helps that Subway is the only retail concept that offers breakfast sandwiches, he adds, but it’s more than that. 

“Students are familiar and comfortable with the brand,” Purcell says. “Even their reaction to the new Fresh Forward design was very positive. We get a lot of comments on the new look.”

Speed of service is key for students and staff with limited time to grab food. “For lunch they’re in and out; the turnover is really high and very quick, which is important. It works really well.

“I would recommend Subway for other campuses,” Purcell says. “It’s the right demographic, the right market, and it’s a good price point for students. Overall it’s been a very good experience.”

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