Zimmerli Museum reopens Z Café
The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum’s Z Café on the College Avenue campus is reopening with new managers and a new menu that caters to students and museum patrons on the go.
The Z Café provides quick, casual service for students and museum patrons, said Kurt Harmon, one of the new managers of the café and co-owner of The Food Architects that will curate the menu of the café.
Along with the usual fair, The Food Architects will collaborate with the museum to design witty foods that match museum exhibits, said Suzanne Delehanty, director of the museum.
“Where the opportunity presents itself, we will tie the food into certain artists [that Zimmerli is featuring],” Harmon said.
The Food Architects, a full-service caterer with a storefront, make gourmet New York-style sandwiches using fresh ingredients, said employee Greg Taranto.
The owners were first introduced to the University through corporate catering on campus and with the Zimmerli Art Museum itself over board meetings and small lunches, Taranto said.
Harmon said the company went through an official bid process and several food sampling sessions before being announced as the new café managers.
The first weeks after opening will be spent working out the kinks and adjusting supplies, Harmon said.
It will be a team effort to get the café management off the ground, Taranto said. There is a support team nearby to bring the freshest and best product to the customer — in case food runs short.
The company uses local bakeries and vendors in the area for both paper products and food products, so they can bring in food that is freshly made and of high-end quality, Taranto said.
“We’re not just doing ham and cheese on white bread and sticking it in the refrigerator,” Harmon said.
The company keeps its menu creative by staying in tune with the latest food trends and changing the menu to stay ahead of other food vendors, Taranto said. The Z Café will feature menu items not seen at other quick service cafés — such as fresh chicken barbecue wraps.
Taranto said many customers who visited their store were University students or faculty, and they have received good feedback from them.
Zimmerli renovated the café and installed Wi-Fi in 2010 in order to allow people to sit down and enjoy themselves, she said.
Students began using the café to meet faculty, eat a quick lunch or pick up coffee between classes, she said.
Delehanty said after the previous food manager left to focus on his newly opened restaurant last February, the Zimmerli Café closed for nearly a year. Now, the café will once again be a place to meet up and combine food with art.
“I think art and food go together,” Delehanty said.
The Food Architects are known for their straightforward foods that are fresh and have dependable quality, she said.
About 10,000 students a year take classes inside the museum, and Delehanty said the new café wants to make sure that if they need coffee between classes — they can get it, she said.
She said The Food Architects’ customer service is dependable, and the museum knows that if a student wants to purchase a cup of coffee late in the afternoon, the café will still be open.
“We want the Rutgers community and visitors to enjoy coming to the Zimmerli — to find it a welcoming place, a place to meet friends and look at art,” Delehanty said.
The Food Architects want to do the same thing they have done at their storefront with their café on campus, he said. They are excited to expand their customer base.
Some of the storefront experience that the team plans to carry over to the University campus is fresh sandwiches and grab-and-go salads, Taranto said.
“A lot of what we do is not your normal, run-of-the-mill turkey sandwiches,” Taranto said. “It’s more gourmet, upscale sandwiches.”
Because the company does not know how the previous vendors managed the café, the first weeks will show them how to measure supply and demand — so they can eliminate food waste without running out of supplies for customers, he said.
Harmon said they were happy to be at the University and are looking forward to student feedback on the menu.
The limited space inside the café and the café’s transient customer base are challenges that they were ready to face, Harmon said. The café will work with the museum’s marketing team and rely on word-of-mouth from satisfied customers for publicity.
After years of working in corporate food services, Harmon and Taranto decided to go into business for themselves, Harmon said.
Not being restricted from a corporate standpoint means The Food Architects are able to do what is best for their business and customers — instead of being bound by corporate rules, said Taranto.
Tasting the food will convince customers to return, Harmon said.
“Ultimately we’re there for you guys. It’s not about what we want to sell, it’s what you guys want to buy,” Taranto said.