Former Li’l Alf Café renovated to provide unique dining experience
ALFRED, NY – The space on the second floor of Alfred University’s Powell Campus Center that once housed Li’l Alf Café is undergoing a remarkable transformation and will soon provide a unique venue for members of the University community to gather and prepare meals in a warm, inviting atmosphere.
The yet-to-be-named cooking and dining area opened, unofficially, on Oct. 12 with a free dinner for Alfred University students. Southwestern cuisine was on the menu, prepared by Mark Guinan, director of Human Resources, and a handful of students learned to make Tex-Mex staples enchiladas and pozolé (spicy southwestern soup) with all the fixings.
While an official opening is still a couple months away, the Oct. 12 event gave a glimpse of a venue that will provide a distinct dining experience rarely seen on college campuses.
“It’s a place where students, faculty and staff can gather as a group to cook and serve meals together,” said Kathy Woughter, vice president of Student Affairs at Alfred University. “It’s really cool. I haven’t seen anything like this.”
An on-line vote offers students the chance to name the facility, located in space that for years had been home to the former Li’l Alf Café (later Li’l Alf Cybercafe). It housed a consignment shop and a barber shop before becoming vacant again after the 2016-17 academic year. With most of the equipment from the café in storage on campus, it hasn’t taken much time, or expense, to turn the room back into a fully operational food service facility.
“The space was just sitting there, with equipment available,” Woughter said. “We didn’t have to make a capital investment.”
Lisa Sidorakis, district manager for AVI Foodsystems, which manages dining services for Alfred University and will oversee the new facility’s operations, credited Woughter with bringing the former space back to life. “Kathy wanted to revitalize that space,” Sidorakis explained. “It’s in a central location (in Powell Campus Center) which is a lively and robust area.”
The space will be uniquely appointed, with much of the furnishings made by craftsmen connected to Alfred University. The main lighting fixture consists of a reclaimed barn beam, on which are attached glass lighting globes made by Angus Powers, associate professor of glass in the School of Art and Design. The light fixture was assembled and installed by Timothy DeWolfe, owner of Wolfe Innovative Lighting and Furnishings, Canasota, NY.
A large table, capable of seating 14, is being crafted by local resident and Alfred University alumnus Mark Shardlow ’83, with accompanying chairs being made by Amish craftsmen in Fulton, NY. Organizers hope professors and students in the College of Ceramics will design and create tableware. A “grand opening” of the facility won’t happen until early January, when furnishings are complete.
“It will have a rustic look to it,” Sidorakis said. “It really will have a beautiful atmosphere.”
Woughter said the Division of Student Affairs’ Dining Advisory Board, which meets periodically to discuss food service concepts, suggested looking into creating this type of space. “They felt it would be nice to have a facility students could use,” she said.
She visited a couple other campuses and saw similar-type facilities, but they weren’t warm and inviting like the Alfred space.
“What I saw on one campus was basically a big, industrial kitchen,” Woughter said. The renovated café in Powell “has an Alfred University feel. It’s very AU specific, where the whole focus is on community.”
“Food -- breaking bread -- has always been something that has brought people together,” Sidorakis added. “That’s what this has turned into, something everyone can use.”
Sidorakis said the new facility, under the direction of AU Fresh food services staff, will offer cooking classes and a weekly coffee hour for faculty and staff. “There will be a series of (cooking) classes where students watch our chefs prepare simple items, things they can go back and duplicate at home,” she said.
John Dietrich, director of dining services at Alfred University, said two cooking classes have been scheduled: Nov. 15 for Thanksgiving-themed fare; and Dec. 5 for holiday cookies. Both classes will run from 3:20 to 5 p.m. “We hope to do the cooking classes a dozen times a year,” he said.
Another feature will be the “integrated kitchen,” where student groups or clubs who want to do an activity can book the room and prepare and eat a meal.
“We’ve developed sample menus they can use,” Sidorakis explained. “This is something we think will get a lot of attention.”
The facility may also be used to host the popular faculty-staff hosted dinners, a program that is being funded by Alfred University alumnus Richard Widdicombe ’63 and his wife, Martha. In the past, faculty or staff have hosted students for dinner in their homes, but now may choose to hosts dinner at the new facility in Powell, with AU Fresh assisting in menu creation and providing ingredients. The Oct. 12 meal was the first faculty-staff hosted dinner held in the former Li’l Alf Café.
Dietrich said another feature being considered are “pop-up meals,” in which simple and quick-to-prepare meals – like a taco or fajita bar; or soup and sandwiches -- will be offered periodically. “We’d advertise for it a day or two in advance,” he explained.
Other possible programs include “dinner and a movie,” where groups prepare a meal before going next door to Nevins Theater to catch a movie, or “to-go meals” provided in conjunction with events like the Bergren Forum (also held in Nevins Theater). Making the facility available for small gatherings of alumni visiting campus is a possibility as well.
AU Press Releases