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Frontera Fresco Coming to Norris Center

Quick-service eatery by Chicago chef Rick Bayless will expand campus dining options

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September 10, 2012 | by Matt Paolelli

EVANSTON, Ill. --- One of the biggest names in the Chicago restaurant scene is bringing his signature flavors to Northwestern University this fall.

Acclaimed Chicago chef Rick Bayless is opening a Frontera Fresco location at Norris University Center, the chain’s first establishment on a college campus. The quick-service Mexican restaurant is now under construction and projected to open in late October.

“We at nuCuisine are thrilled to be working with Rick Bayless and Frontera Fresco,” said Steve Mangan, resident district manager for nuCuisine. “It’s fresh, it’s local, it’s culinary-driven, it’s Chicago and now it’s Northwestern.  It’s a perfect match.”

Frontera’s fresh, foodie fare will inhabit the space formerly occupied by Sbarro, Jamba Juice and Crepe Bistro on the ground floor of Norris. The nuSushi station and the new North Shore Pizza Company will be moved into the ground floor’s Paws ‘n Go C-Store.

The restaurant’s arrival on the Evanston campus is somewhat serendipitous. Norris had been reexamining its retail food offerings last spring after student and community surveys showed a desire for improvement, said Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, assistant vice president for student auxiliary services. In mid-spring quarter, Bayless’ company approached Norris about the feasibility of opening a Frontera Fresco.

“We have been working on this for the last three months and we are very pleased to offer our students food they have been asking for,” said Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs. “Our students are savvy about food, and want a quality experience. All that Rick Bayless does – using locally sourced and organic products, high standards, and his commitment to outstanding food –is perfect for our environment.”

Since opening Frontera Grill in Chicago 25 years ago, Bayless has recently expanded his restaurant offerings to include quick-service Frontera Fresco locations in Macy’s department stores, airports and hospitals. Spreading to a college campus was the next logical step and Northwestern was a perfect fit, said Stacy Dixon, Frontera’s director of development and marketing.

“Northwestern is a top, prestigious university right in our backyard with a great campus and a great location,” Dixon said. “It’s an ideal partnership because it’s a great place for Rick to showcase what he’s been doing with sourcing local food and bringing everything to a generation of students who really understand his mission.”

Bayless, who has cooked for President Barack Obama at a state dinner, was recently named by the U.S. State Department as one of more than 20 chefs as culinary ambassadors around the world.

Instead of relying on larger food distributors, Bayless is committed to exclusively using local food and produce from farmers within a 100-mile radius of his restaurants. This tradition will continue at the Norris location.

“The produce, the cheeses--even down to the meats that are going to be on the menu at Norris--will be from farmers who are supported by the Frontera Farmer Foundation, which gives grant money directly to small farms to build greenhouses and buy supplies that in turn go into making the produce that is plated at the restaurants,” Dixon said. “It’s a great circle that works well for everybody.”

Beyond the sustainable practices in the kitchen, Frontera will also satisfy students’ appetites by adding a greater variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings to the existing campus dining scene. Frontera Fresco’s menu will include Mexican delicacies such as tacos, tortas, tamales, quesadillas, soups, salads, special seasonal dishes and gluten-free options.

To bolster breakfast and dessert options at Norris, the space previously occupied by the Crepe Bistro will become part of Frontera, offering coffee, hot chocolate, pastries, smoothies, soft serve ice cream and a make-your-own parfait bar.

 “It’s a new concept that we’re developing for Northwestern and we’re really excited about it,” Dixon said. “With this additional sweets component, it’s really kind of a one-stop shop where you can come back many times during the day and have something different each time.”

With Frontera accepting both cash and meal plans, students will have access to a greater variety of food and increased daily dining options beyond the dining halls.

“Frontera is an excellent and needed addition to Norris,” said Medill senior Brad Stewart. “As someone who eats in Norris almost daily, it'll be great to have a healthier and higher-quality option available.”

For updates on the eatery’s construction progress and information about the grand opening and upcoming contests, follow Norris Center on Facebook and Twitter.