ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --
After being closed for more than nine months, Café 100 is once again open in Building 100 at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., headquarters of Arnold Engineering Development Complex.
Rachel Napier, Arnold Services deputy, said the eatery closed in late November of last year due to a decrease in customers resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic posture and corresponding utilization of teleworking. This provided an opportune time to complete a renovation of the kitchen, serving and dining spaces, which was largely funded by the Air Force Materiel Command “AFMC We Need” program. The renovation began in January and the construction portion of the project, overseen by the Base Civil Engineering Branch, was completed in July. The Café 100 staff then began the process of preparing to reopen.
If they were going to be closed for months, the staff wanted to make sure the inconvenience to the customer would be worth it. With that in mind, they looked at how they could improve the customer experience and reworked the operating concept.
“We’re really doing this with the customer in mind,” said Wende Miller, Café 100 supervisor. “When we did all this, we wanted to be able to show that we’re really making a change that’s going to help the customer. So they can say, ‘You guys were closed for almost a year. What are we getting out of this?’ We want them to have that ‘ahh’ moment.”
The spaces have been reconfigured and all food preparation moved into the kitchen area. Previously, there was a small grill behind the serving counter but in the view of customers. Sandwiches and hot beverages were also prepared in the area behind the counter, along with serving of the hot line meal.
The serving space now has a rectangular counter area with two cashiers, and cold and hot grab-and-go items placed to the left and right of this main counter. A self-serve salad bar will also be located in this space once COVID-19 protocols permit it to be offered. There is a cold self-serve beverage station with both bottled and fountain beverages. Pre-packaged frozen desserts are available at that location as well. Made-to-order items and the hot daily special are delivered to customers at a pick-up window.
The new layout allows for more grab-and-go items, such as pre-boxed pizza-by-the-slice, self-serve hot dogs, pre-made salads and yogurt, among other items. The hot line has been replaced with plans for hot daily specials with set entrée and sides that will be ordered from either cashier and dished up in the kitchen.
“We can almost guarantee that our first offering of the hot daily special will be pulled pork,” said Mardi Nichols, Arnold Services Community Services Flight chief, of the popular dish.
The intention is to speed up service for the customer.
“We want to get everybody in and out faster so they spend less time waiting during their lunch break,” Miller said.
The café still accepts call-ahead orders, including for full-size pizzas.
Nichols and Miller called the opening a ‘soft opening,’ with the team providing a limited offering and adding more as they learn what works best for the customer and the team. COVID-19 pandemic protocols also influence what may and may not be offered. The pandemic has also delayed the production and delivery of some equipment.
“We’re going to have some growing pains that we’re going to have to work through and test everything out because this is a completely new layout for us,” Miller said.
The renovation not only allowed the Café 100 team to redo the layout, but upgrades to systems enabled upgrades to cooking equipment.
The work on the building included replacing plumbing systems in the kitchen and removing the old vent hood, which had quit working, with a new state-of-the-art hood with a fire suppression system. The new hood allows for a larger grill, an open fryer and a stove.
“That’s what we’re really excited about, is having that equipment that we couldn’t have before,” Miller said. “It opens up the doors to offer new items.”
The dining and serving area were freshened up with new flooring, an updated look to the ceiling and paint on the walls. Counter-height seating was also added with outlets for charging electronics.
“This will bring a tremendous enhancement to the quality of life for Arnold personnel, the new facility provides a refreshed look and added counter space if you want to bring your computer to lunch,” said Oscar Portillo, a project manager with the Civil Engineering Branch.
“At the forefront of capital improvement projects in TSD [the Test Support Division of AEDC] our goals are to maximize on quality of life projects for Arnold personnel to enjoy for years to come.”