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Students, Campus Dining react to Waddick’s renovation

| Monday, September 3, 2018

It was an ’80s-era coffee joint built out of a former classroom. On weekday mornings, a line of students and faculty spilled out its doorway. Wooden tables and chairs with red leather upholstery crowded the hallway outside.

Now, the space is modern and open-concept. Tables and booths are spaced evenly around the cafe’s periphery. In its center, colorful stained-glass light fixtures hang above armchairs and a leather couch.

A picture of Robert J. Waddick, the former assistant dean of the College of Arts and Letters, is still on display in the corner — a memento to its past namesake.

Emma Farnan | The Observer

Charron Family Cafe — previously called Waddick’s — was met with a variety of reactions by the Notre Dame campus community following its unveiling.

This summer, Waddick’s — now called Charron Family Cafe — in O’Shaughnessey Hall underwent a complete makeover, which included updates to its decor, seating space and menu.

Margaret Meserve, associate dean for the humanities and faculty affairs and associate professor of history, spearheaded the renovation. Meserve said plans to renovate Waddick’s began in the spring of 2017, when the College of Arts and Letters conducted its bi-annual staff and faculty survey, improveND. The survey ranked staff and faculty members’ satisfaction with on-campus dining locations, she said.

“Waddick’s was pretty consistently close to the bottom,” she said. “Formal feedback I had heard from faculty and staff centered on, ‘The lines are really long [and] it’s hard to get a place to sit.’”

After examining the data, she said, the College of Arts and Letters began an initiative to redesign Waddick’s and extend its seating into the adjacent art gallery.

Chris Abayasinghe, senior director of Campus Dining, and Luigi Alberganti, director of retail dining, also worked with Meserve to coordinate the renovation. In redesigning the space, the renovation team purposely tried to echo the older feel of Waddick’s and keep other elements of the cafe that students liked, Meserve said. The designer worked with several Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) majors to select seating and decor, she added.

“[Students] liked the wood, they liked the kind of warmth of the older furniture, so we kept the booths that were there before,” Meserve said. “In fact, we found more that were in storage in the basement of O’Shaughnessey.”

The new cafe takes its name after Notre Dame alumnus Paul Charron, whose donation made the renovation possible, Meserve said. There are plans to add art installations to the space in the near future.

Alberganti said the Charron Family Cafe employs many of the same staff members who previously worked at Waddick’s.

The cafe’s manager, Vicki Armour, has worked at the location for 17 years. She said Campus Dining did ask for her input about designing the new space but she ultimately was not involved in it. Even still, she said she likes many aspects of the renovation.

“There’s a lot of good things — the view, the colors and the benches,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite things — they saved the old benches.”

The lounge is always busy with students, she added.

Senior Patrick Evans, who began working at Waddick’s during his sophomore year, said the location now serves espresso products but no longer offers many of its previous meal options, including baked potatoes, soups and daily specials.

Alberganti said the menu changes were meant to complement the food served in Decio Faculty Hall nearby, thereby streamlining service.

“We tried to make sure to focus a little more on what Decio is lacking, which is the coffee product,” he said.

Meserve said the renovation team also originally planned to remove breakfast sandwiches, the cafe’s most popular food item. But when rumors about the new menu reached students last spring, then-senior Susan Lefelhocz created a petition to keep the sandwiches. The petition gained nearly 500 signatures before Lefelhocz was asked to end it, according to an Observer article published March 2.

After reading the petition, as well as two Letters to the Editor also published in The Observer, Meserve said Campus Dining decided to keep the sandwiches.

Armour said she misses the larger menu selection.

“They took away a lot of things,” she said. “But it seems to be going well. I mean, we’re not getting as much money every day, but it seems to be going well.”

Campus Dining’s data “does not support” any indication that business at the cafe has been slower since the renovation, Abayasinghe said.

Though he likes the increased seating in Charron Family Cafe, Evans said the space behind the counter is clustered and not well-designed.

“Rather than there being little zones for everyone to work in, it’s all kind of overlapping … and we’re feeling that when we get rushes,” he said.

Evans was attached to the dated look of Waddick’s, he said.

“I think that the old space was sort of lovably ugly — it was a little bit cramped and kind of dingy, but it had a lot of heart to it,” Evans said. “This kind of feels like a hotel lobby where it looks nice and it’s very clean, but it’s a little bit stark and sterile.”

Junior Alex Karaniwan has worked at the location since his sophomore year. Although he enjoys the new espresso machine and additional seating, Karaniwan said his feelings about the update are mixed.

“[The design] in and of itself is good — everything’s clean, it looks very modern and I like what they serve — but it’s just not the same thing,” he said.

Meserve said although her team tried to preserve the older feel of the cafe, she believes some elements had to be forfeited in the interest of updating the space.

“We thought opening up the space to the South Quad and bringing in more natural lighting, as well as more places for people to charge their devices and different kinds of seating … would be a pretty good tradeoff for losing a space that people loved and felt very attached to,” she said.

Evans said he believes the cafe’s former regulars do not find the new establishment as inviting as the older location.

“I routinely see people I know or people who clearly are coming in to go to Waddick’s, and they see the renovation, and they kind of cringe a little bit and then they just keep walking,” he said. “The sort of sense of a regular crowd is gone.”

Meserve said she wonders what students feel is missing from the new space.

“There wasn’t art on the walls at Waddick’s,” she said. “There weren’t posters, the walls were white, the light was fluorescent, the carpet was grey, the tables were run down — and that’s pretty much what we have now, with some more color and more architectural elements.”

Alberganti said Campus Dining welcomes all student, staff and faculty feedback about the renovation.

“[Students] can rest assured that every decision that we did was for the betterment of the space,” he said.

Despite the cafe’s new look, Evans believes its employees keep the spirit of Waddick’s alive.

“I think people see Waddick’s and think, ‘Oh, it’s totally gone,’” he said. “And, you know, it’s not totally gone — we’re still here, too.”

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a Computer Science Engineering major pursuing a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy. If her journalism career doesn't work out, her Plan B is to start a petting zoo.

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