Student-run café at Eckles Hall serves quality food for cheap

Students take turns acting as host, waiter and chef throughout the semester.

On the corner of Rollins Street and College Avenue is the student-run Culinary Café at Eckles Hall, one of MU’s best-kept gastronomic secrets. The small restaurant, which is a part of MU’s Hospitality Management Program, provides students with real-world experience in all aspects of managing a successful restaurant.

Open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, the café offers a variety of dining choices for a reasonable price. A grilled sirloin served with mashed potatoes, asparagus and portobello demi glace is a mere $7.95.

The café’s most popular dish is its turkey bacon club served with waffle fries. The Cuban flatbread is a close second, and the daily specials are always in high demand, said Jeff Guinn, resident instructor of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

The Café also hosts the Evening Event Series, made possible by the students in the HRM 4985 Dinner Series Capstone class. The students plan a four-course meal and create an elegant atmosphere for guests six nights per semester. Each management group for the night organizes the menu, budget, staff, food production and service.

“The students essentially plan and open a restaurant for a night,” Guinn said. “It’s a fine dining operation.”

This semester’s Evening Event dishes have three different fusion themes: Japanese and Classical French, Mediterranean and Southern United States, and Midwest and Maui.

The evening of ambience and four dishes of unique flavor combinations comes to a grand total of about $24 to $28 per customer, Guinn said.

It’s a wonder the café is still such a well-kept secret, having served lunch since 2005.

“We get a lot of our customers through word of mouth,” said Guinn, who also added social media websites Facebook and Twitter to the café’s public relations repertoire.

Senior Kaitlin Oxenreider said the café is a hotspot for students and faculty within the hospitality management department.

“We get a lot of staff members and then a lot of people that have classes in here, and they come in between classes,” she said.

Tuesdays are especially popular because of the buffet-style service the café offers, she said.

Currently a waitress in the café, Oxenreider started the semester in the kitchen, which she said is her favorite part of working in the restaurant.

“I like the back of the house because it’s kind of interesting to learn how you cook in bulk rather than just for yourself at home,” she said.

Oxenreider, a hospitality management major with a food and beverage emphasis, hopes to open her own restaurant in Springfield, Mo. after graduating next year.

Seniors Ally Blauch and Emily Hegger discussed the café’s typical customer demographic over the café’s daily special, chili dogs with macaroni and cheese.

“We are in this department, so they send out emails each week of what they’re having, so that’s how we heard about (the café),” Blauch said.

Hegger said she agreed with Blauch's statement.

“Sometimes, we see random people every once in a while that we wonder about how they hear about it, too, but it’s mostly (people in this department),” Hegger said.

A nice antidote to the same old dining hall food day after day, the café at Eckles Hall serves as a refreshing lunch alternative in a convenient location for students between classes.

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