A day and a half after it served its final meal of the 2012-2013 school year, Ekdahl Dining Center, more commonly known as Mrs. E’s, was stripped down to bare walls. The tables and seating that filled one of Kansas University’s most popular cafeterias were carried out and workers quickly removed whatever remnants were left of the old Mrs. E’s.
Their mission: to create a new dining concept.
The much-needed update, which opens in time for the new school year, came after years of planning and designing, according to Nona Golledge, director of KU Memorial Unions residential dining.
The renovation to the 20-year-old dining hall included equipment updates, redesign and redecorating, and changes to the types of food — from dishes tailored for special diets to pizza to international specialties — that are offered daily at the cafeteria.
“Twenty years is a really long time,” Golledge said. “We’re able to provide new food concepts, more cooked-to-flow food, so everything is prepped to serve. It’s more than just food – it’s about a whole dining experiencing; coming to Mrs. E’s not just to eat, but to socialize.”
Designers and the managerial staff used the dining hall’s existing assets to create an atmosphere that would make students gravitate to the cafeteria. Mrs. E’s, named after longtime dining employee Lenoir Ekdahl, overlooks KU’s campus from the top of Daisy Hill. To give the hall an open feel, the half-walls in the seating area were torn down, making the university’s buildings and landscape visible to the entire seating area.
“The design will really let us take advantage of the great windows and glorious views,” Claudia Larkin, Director of Marketing for KU Memorial Unions, said.
Although the dining hall will continue to pay tribute to Mrs. E by continuing to use similar signage and decorations, the new concept for Mrs. E’s layout and furniture is more contemporary, Larkin said. In addition to traditional tables, there will be booths and high-top tables. The area is meant to feel airy and open, and to become more of a place where students want to relax and linger instead of eat and go back to their rooms.
The new layout eliminates about 50 of the hall’s original 750 seats, but Golledge said the addition and renovation of other dining halls on campus since Mrs. E’s opened will avoid capacity problems.
Sheryl Kidwell, the assistant director for KU Memorial Unions Residential Dining, said the renovations in the serving area also were intended to make food service more open and student-friendly. The center area that once housed the salad bar is now free-flowing, and a variety of new food stations has been added to give students more options.
One of the stations that Golledge believes will be particularly popular is the KYou Zone, which caters specifically to special dietary needs for students with allergies or who follow a specific diet as a part of their lifestyle. There will be more vegan and vegetarian items, as well as kosher offerings at least once a week.
“Students can go and feel secure that what they’re getting is allergy-sensitive,” Kidwell said.
Sergio Banos, Mrs. E’s assistant manager, said other food concepts will include a pizza oven, barbecue, salad bar, fresh fruits, home-cooking and comfort foods and international cuisines, such as Asian and Italian.
“Variety is really key to what these folks thought through,” Banos said.
Renovations for the dining center were complete Aug. 5 and the hall opened its doors for service on Aug. 23.
An opening ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sept. 27 — and Lenoir Ekdahl, the original Mrs. E, will be on hand to cut the ribbon for the renovated dining hall.
“It’s hard to say goodbye, especially to an icon like Mrs. E’s, but it’s exciting for students for what’s (happening),” Kidwell said.