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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
September 25, 2007
DeKalb — A new era in Northern Illinois University lunchtime dining begins Tuesday, Oct. 2, when the Holmes Student Center’s Pheasant Room officially becomes Ellington’s and changes part of its business model to an elegant and chic restaurant.
Ellington’s is named after jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington (and the namesake ballroom nearby) and gives a nod to the NIU School of Music, which often supplies noon-hour musical entertainment.
Students from the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, who operate the room Tuesdays and Thursdays, now will serve three-course gourmet meals rather than preparing the all-you-can-eat buffet that was a hallmark of the old Chandelier Room. Each meal costs only $8; credit cards are accepted.
HSC food service staff will continue to stock traditional buffets Mondays and Wednesdays under the Ellington’s name; reservations for those days are made through the student center. The room is closed Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The Oct. 2 grand opening lunch – seating starts at 11 a.m. – has a 1920s supper club theme for the menu that includes “Duke Wellington,” “Cotton Club Rigatoni” and “Speakeasy Salad.”
A jazz trio performs from 11 to 11:50 a.m.
Reservations for Tuesdays and Thursdays are recommended (and strongly encouraged for groups of 10 or more) via phone (815) 753-1763 or online at http://www.ellingtons.niu.edu. Ellington’s is also open to the public; those who pay for visitor’s parking are reimbursed.
“It should be pretty exciting,” said Joan Quinn, coordinator of the quantity foods lab. “We do see it as a more upscale dining experience.”
Ellington’s sports a new logo and sign, reupholstered chairs, fresh coats of paint, various colors of linens, framed black-and-white photographs and fresh flowers on the tables. Servers will don black aprons and bow ties to complement their formalwear shirts and slacks.
Each of the fall semester’s eight themed menus features two starters, two entrées and two desserts. Other themes include “Autumn Harvest,” “Gusto Di Italia,” “Lotus,” “Ambrosia,” “Just Paradise,” “Fuego,” “California Grill” and “Vive le France.” Full descriptions of each starter, entrée and dessert are available online.
The changes come a year after FCNS, part of the NIU College of Health and Human Sciences, partnered with the student center to share the dining room and the more-spacious kitchen. Surging enrollment in hospitality and nutrition and dietetics had overfilled the Chandelier Room kitchen.
“We had a successful year over there,” Quinn said. “At the end of the year, the HSC staff and I got together and said, ‘Maybe we can try to snaz this up a little.’ Now the name is more updated and more enticing. At the same time, it allows our quantity foods class to show a new image.”
Mitch Kielb, director of the Holmes Student Center, said Ellington’s “should be fun.”
“The students expressed an interest in doing something a little different this year. We want to encourage their creativity, so we said, ‘Yes, let’s go, let’s run with it,’ ” Kielb said. “They put a lot of energy into what they do, and we’re happy to have them do that and make the switch.”
A contest was held to choose a new name. After nominations were solicited from FCNS students and staff as well as HSC staff, including “Food for Thought,” it was Ellington’s that fit best. “All of us loved it,” Quinn said.
The new name encompasses the dual ownership of the space, although it’s possible that students will operate Ellington’s four days a week in the future. The spring semester already could bring a three-days-a-week schedule for the FCNS 320 students, Quinn said.
It’s part of a move to incorporate the “serving experience” into the curriculum for hospitality and nutrition and dietetics.
Students assume different roles, including general manager, executive chef, dining room manager and wait staff. They must make decisions regarding staffing, themes, menus, nutrition, allergies, portion sizes and profit margins, marketing, dining room layout and décor and even silverware placement and napkin folding.
Working in the HSC kitchen alongside the professionals provides another layer of expertise and another opportunity for learning.
“This is one of the best programs we’ve ever had in the center,” Kielb said. “It’s successful from all standpoints: The students get great experience, and the customers get a wonderful eating experience and entertainment. It’s good all around.”
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