Projects: higher learning

Jimi Yui FCSI received the 2018 FCSI The Americas Trendsetter Award for his outstanding work on the Duke University West Union Campus

The FCSI The Americas Trendsetter Award is presented to “an individual who best exemplifies innovation, creativity and unique and lasting contributions to the foodservice industry”. The 2018 recipient, Jimi Yui FCSI, founding principal of YuiDesign, Inc. in Maryland, US, was the mastermind behind the extensive refit of the Duke University West Union Campus in Durham, North Carolina.

Duke West Union Renovation by Grimshaw Architects

Wade Koehler CAE, executive director, FCSI The Americas, says Yui was an obvious choice for the award.

“Jimi has been a pillar of excellence for a number of years with his progressive designs and partnerships with too many top chefs to mention. He looks to change up the status quo and try to create something never seen before, such as the Eataly marketplace and now Duke,” says Koehler.

The $150m West Union renovation at Duke University involves four levels, 13 dining venues, unorthodox cooking techniques, multiple operators and high-speed pizza prep.

“There are meeting rooms, club rooms and other amenities, but I’d say three-quarters of the use of the building is for food and beverage,” explains Yui. The dining concept consists of a market with multiple stations, as well as a studio for cooking instruction, a fine-dining restaurant, and a coffee shop/carry-out concept.

Duke administrators called Yui “out of nowhere,” he recalls, because they had heard he’d worked on Eataly. “They said they wanted something like that. I said, ‘Universities don’t want an Eataly on campus.’ They said: We’re doing it because it’s never been done before.’

“It is not institutional food, and that is why it is really great when it is done well,” Yui says. It was one hell of an aspiration. I literally tried to talk them out of it for several months.”

High aspirations

A central component of the Duke operation is its wood-burning grill. As Yui notes, “I said to them: this is a hell of a journey all by itself ’. And they said: ‘That’s in keeping with our aspiration to do something that’s never been done before, and this is going to be special.’”

Yui (pictured) and his staff “did the math on 90-second Neapolitans because we figured it is that kind of speed that is going to allow us to make pizza the way it is supposed to be.

“If you think about it, that’s pretty aggressive. You’re talking about running this thing like an honest-to- God 90-second Neapolitan pizzeria.”

Also essential was marrying the cuisines to the right Durham-area operators, which came last. “We were interviewing local restaurateurs, doing tastings with them, and trying to pick the correct operators to occupy the spaces. We wanted seven cuisines [including Asian, Indian, the grill, pizza, and Mediterranean/vegetarian] in order to engage a selection of people,” says Yui.

“The new campus Jimi designed has been viral in the college and university community for the past year. He, along with Rick Johnson [former associate vice president for student affairs at Duke University], changed the face of college campus dining,” concludes Koehler.

Howard Riell



Picture: James Ewing/Otto

More Relevant

View More