This is not your grandpa’s cafeteria. It’s not even your dad’s cafeteria.
Last week, Redondo Union High School cut the ribbon on a new student union building with an eatery that feels like a beachy-casual restaurant, with five food stations serving healthy dining options and a interior designed by the students themselves to highlight the school’s storied history and spirit.
“The students were involved with the design from the get-go,” said Principal Dr. Nicole Wesley. “This isn’t the administration’s union or the principal’s union. It’s the student union. It belongs to them.”
The students took that ownership attitude early on. The exterior of the building was mostly finished when the school year began. A student design team was assembled to review the proposal of a company contracted to create the look for the inside. There were some things the students liked – such as the inclusion of past Redondo Sea Hawk logos – but there was a lot they wanted to change.
“The first design came back with some green in it,” Wesley said. “We couldn’t have that.” (Green and gold are the colors of the school’s crosstown rivals, Mira Costa.)
Images and words wrapping around the top of the dining room were also changed, incorporating the work of design team member Caleb Walker to bring a more subtle message of school and personal pride. A periodic table was added to emphasize academics and words like “teamwork,” “spirit” and “integrity” were woven into the design in a more organic, less preachy style.
Graphics created by another student – Jenn Duong – were also included in the final design, in addition to changes made to tabletops, seating and other aspects, all to create a space where kids would want to spend time with each other instead of just grabbing their food and dashing out.
“Not a lot of students ate inside the old cafeteria,” Wesley said. “We wanted to make an inviting place where students took their time to eat healthy food and enjoy each other’s company.”
The new student union is as advanced in its food preparation facilities as it is welcoming in its guest seating area. The kitchen is equipped with a pizza oven – just like the ones at high-end Italian restaurants – as well as a state of the art grill and a countertop that can keep cold food chilled. Instead of standing in one long line for some tired “lunch special” of the day, there will be three lines feeding into stations for grilled items, Asian and Mexican fare, deli sandwiches and a snack bar. All of the signs for the food stations are surfboard-shaped.
While a ceremonial ribbon cutting was held last week – highlighted by a healthy cooking lesson from celebrity chef Devin Alexander – the union won’t open for general student use until the beginning of April. At last week’s event, organizers of the Blue Zones Project, an organization promoting healthier lifestyles in the beach cities in conjunction with the Beach Cities Health District, praised the new facility for meeting standards set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The Alliance was founded by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association.
All the food items served at the cafeteria will be either baked or grilled. There is no fryer in the kitchen. Portions and the meal’s side courses – with proteins, vegetables and fruits -- will also reflect healthy choices. The cost of a meal will be $3.75 for students not on the subsidized lunch program. Wesley said about 600 of the school’s 2,400 students buy lunch on-campus, although she said the hope is that number will grow as students embrace the healthy and tasty options and the new dining experience.
Last week kitchen staff members were still training on the new equipment. The first meals will be served March 22 as part of a Redondo Beach Education Foundation fundraiser in which families who donated $100 or more to the foundation had their student entered into a raffle to get to be among the first to be served in the new cafeteria.
In the last week of March, each class, starting with seniors, will have their own day to enjoy the new eatery. On those days, everyone will be allowed to enjoy the rooftop deck seating, which offers an expansive ocean view. Later the deck will be restricted to seniors on most days.
The new student union cost $7.5 million, with the funds coming from $145 million raised for district-wide facilities by bond Measure C passed by Redondo voters in 2008. It’s the last new building to be constructed in what has been almost a complete makeover of the Redondo Union campus.
During construction of the new student union, students have been served by food carts parked around campus. Rules about eating in hallways were relaxed to accommodate for the loss of the cafeteria. Now, Wesley said, the kids are excited to enjoy their own casual café on campus. Groups of friends have been looking in the windows to check out where they want to sit.
“I want our students to eat and enjoy their meal and their friends in a fun and welcoming atmosphere,” she said. “I think that will result in not only healthier and happier students but will also have a positive effect on their performance in the classroom.”