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Chicago Campus Fine Dining Secret: Wieboldt Hall

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November 14, 2006

Wieboldt Hall on the Chicago campus -- home to the Kellogg School of Management's part-time master's program and the School of Continuing Studies and annual host to numerous corporate clients -- has a secret. Three or four, actually: fine dining venues.

Whether you're in the mood for a healthy snack or a gourmet dinner with wine, head to Wieboldt.

The fanciest locale is the Ray Conley Lounge, room 540. This afternoon it is dressed in its best and ready for guests. Tables are draped in ivory damask, candles and flowers gracing their centers. Eastern windows let in dramatic views of Lake Michigan and Oak Street Beach. Steaming platters of food await plating. And members of the American Dental Association (ADA) are enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail reception in adjoining room 541.

This is a familiar scenario in Wieboldt Hall. Scheduled through the Kellogg Conference Center located on the first floor, countless local, national and international organizations regularly fill its dining halls.

Visitors are not limited to corporate clients such as Aon and Sony, however. “We welcome all the Northwestern community and beyond to schedule events at the conference center,” says Diane Janura, the center's program manager. Just contact Janura to make reservations.

Januara, together with Michael Johnson, general manager of conferencing and a Sodexho food service manager, coordinates all conference activities -- from soup to nuts.

Although the Ray Conley Lounge can comfortably accommodate 160 diners, tonight it is set up for the smaller ADA group of about 50, with a dais ready for an after-dinner speaker, who will use the state-of the-art AV system and drop-down screens.

It is during the cocktail reception that the action takes place behind the scenes. A few blocks away, dinner has been prepared in the Abbott Hall kitchen, packaged into insulated hot and cool trays, then rolled over to a work area on the fifth floor of Wieboldt, where plates are assembled and served.

“It's all in the timing,” said Johnson.

It's also in the commitment of Johnson and newly hired chefs and catering managers to meet the needs -- and tastes -- of corporate clients as well as students enrolled in Kellogg's Managers' Program, a part-time MBA evening program designed for working professionals.

These students come to class straight from work, hungry for dinner or a snack. Kellogg Kafé, a large lounge area on the third floor, offers an expansive menu of fresh items, despite its small kitchen: sandwiches, salads, sushi, bottled beverages, paninis, pizza, soups and nuts. With its efficient layout, the Kafé can serve 500-600 in the four-hour span it's open -- 5 to 9 p.m.

Johnson explains that he does extensive research, surveying students and visiting corporations to try to match menus to tastes. For Asian clients such as Sony, which holds conferences at Wieboldt several times a year, the chef chooses sushi or vegetarian items.

“Above all,” said Johnson, “We are committed to healthy eating and offer a wide variety: seasonal favorites, low-fat, low-salt, high-fiber, organic fruits and vegetables and freshly made pasta and pastries. We also cater to meat lovers and 'hearty eaters,'” he added.

“The new catering manager, Robet Crabbe, who hails from the Walt Disney Company, has raised the bar,” said Janura, explaining that his goal is to offer the finest cuisine possible. The catering staff includes a new executive chef and sous-chef.

Johnson added that clients leave a conference satisfied, saying, 'Wow, you really fed us.'” Whether they're on campus for a week or a few days, clients are served three meals a day plus morning and afternoon breaks. Each evening includes beverages with hors d'oeuvres prior to buffet or plated dinners with wine. Menus are based not only on client preferences but also on the season -- pumpkin muffins in the fall, lighter items in summer.

With several dining options in Wieboldt, the conference center can accommodate more than one group at a time. Last summer Aon, ADA and Microsoft all met comfortably during the same week.

Besides room 540 and the Kafé, there's room 440, a comfortable lounge with the stained glass Kellogg logo, and the fireplace chat room, #362, an intimate wood-paneled room with a fireplace that can be used for a lunch or plated dinner for a party of up to about 40. “Nonprofit groups often book the fireside room for fajita or lasagna lunches,” said Erin Kopecky, coordinator for special events.

The Baxter Room, 147, the largest classroom in Wieboldt, is used for conferences and seminars, often for groups coordinated by Jane Hoffman, director of Kellogg's Nonoprofit Center. Hoffman works with such groups as Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Chicago Public Schools.

Corporate clients that regularly hold conferences at the center are Performance Trust, Mass Mutual, Kraft, Sony, and Seminarium, a Latin American firm. In October 150 people attended the International Human Rights Conference, and a large group came for a language symposium.

In addition to hosting corporate groups, Wieboldt is used by the Feinberg School of Medicine to conduct student interviews and by the School of Law for LSATs and the Illinois Bar Exam. Law firms throughout the U.S. conduct interviews for summer internships there, and executive education students are often bused from the Allen Center to attend such events as the recent press event and book signing for “B2B Brand Management,” co-authored by Waldemar Pfoertsch, former adjunct professor at Kellogg, and Phil Kotler, SC Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing.

Juggling all these different groups, Janura and Johnson keep a busy calendar, so if you want to book an event, it's best to plan ahead.