Centrum Cafe is being transformed into a Habit Burger Grill and could be open as early as fall 2019.
“The moment I stepped onto campus I began refurbishing [Centrum],” Director of Auxiliaries Clinton Oie said. “Chairs were cracked, there was cracked vinyl, so I had everything redone. But I would say it’s definitely time, whatever we were to do with it – it’s time for a refurbishment.”
Oie has served as a liaison between California Lutheran University and Sodexo for the past four years and is in charge of campus food services. He said he is waiting for the final word to change the restaurant.
Renovating Centrum could begin as soon as summer 2019 once The Habit, Sodexo and Cal Lutheran come to an agreement about opening the new restaurant. This change will also give Cal Lutheran the chance to update the building’s equipment, as Oie said it is “pretty old and run-down.”
The Habit is a popular Southern California burger chain with more than 200 locations and a presence on several college campuses, such as the University of Southern California and California Baptist University.
The decision to convert Centrum into a chain restaurant has been in the works since before Oie was on campus. He said there was a survey about eating habits and preferred off-campus eateries for faculty, staff and students several years back. When he began talking with Sodexo about new concepts for Centrum, they used the survey to determine the best fit for campus.
In spring of 2018, Oie said he held a meeting to discuss the change of Centrum to The Habit with several campus administrators. He met with Chris Paul, assistant dean of Students, director of Residence Life and deputy Title IX coordinator, Director of Housing Operations Nate Fall, Associate Vice President of Planning and Services Ryan Van Ommeren and Associated Students of California Lutheran University Government President Nick Steinwender.
Steinwender said some questions were raised about operating hours, parking for community members, staffing and gluten-free or vegetarian options.
One of the biggest concerns at this meeting was the implementation of meal plans at The Habit and whether the university could guarantee the restaurant would accept meal swipes, Steinwender said.
“I personally wouldn’t support them coming on campus if Sodexo or The Habit is unwilling to allow students to use meal swipes,” Steinwender said.
Oie said he will push for The Habit to accept block meals and is currently working with Sodexo to make this option available.
When the university approached The Habit to take up space on campus, Oie said the chain was very eager to move forward on the proposal.
“I was pretty excited,” Steinwender said. “I like The Habit, I think they have pretty good quality food, they have good service. I think prices are pretty decent…I think generally, students are going to be very happy with The Habit on campus.”
Steinwender said he is not a fan of Centrum and is welcoming the change.
“Before I started here, I always heard amazing things about Centrum,” Steinwender said. “When I got here as a freshman, I tried it the first time and was not a fan. It just was not good quality food. It took forever to get your order. And it seemed over the years that it just kept getting worse and worse.”
First-year Sara Fehlman is a commuter without a meal plan and said Centrum is her cheapest option on campus, but the food is just “okay.” She said she enjoys The Habit, saying it’s “up there” as one of her favorite fast-food spots.
One of her main concerns is the price increase. She said since she pays out of pocket for meals, a higher price for meals could force her to look elsewhere for lunch.
“I think if it happens, and it’s a little ‘if,’ every step of the way is getting much better,” Oie said. “The ‘if’ is shrinking to a ‘when.’ I’m very excited. I’m very happy that the folks at The Habit are excited and that Sodexo is very excited.”