On Nov. 10, a team of five students represented MSU at the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference as part of Restaurant Finance Week’s first student competition. The global premier restaurant investment conference attracts more than 3,000 delegates to its venue in Las Vegas every year; in 2020, the events took place virtually.

At the competition, juniors Abigail Caterina, Faith Chen and Wonney Jang and seniors Emily Chang and Nick Cartus presented their impressive and innovative project for “The Restaurant of the Future,” the Greenhouse.

Team Greenhouse

The fast-casual concept of the Greenhouse reintroduced automats, convenient and efficient vending machine-style restaurants, which were popularized in the late 1800s. Through a sustainable and visually appealing aesthetic, the Greenhouse revolved around high-quality foods and staggering efficiency with the integration of advanced technologies to create a special, innovative dining experience.

Rendering of the Greenhouse created by the Spartan team

“To figure out just one section of a restaurant can take a lot more time than you think — someone thinks of an idea, we all brainstorm on it, realize that it isn’t possible or practical, then moving on to other ideas, just to repeat the cycle,” Chen, a hospitality major, explained. “This happened quite a bit throughout. And that’s only for one section. Imagine the whole operation! I’m very thankful to have worked with such a wonderful team.”

Something that set the team of students apart was its composition. An underlying strategy of Broad’s Real Estate Investment Management minor is to invite students from departments across campus to collaborate with hospitality business students in competitions — a strength of collaboration.

Jang, from MSU’s School of Planning, Design and Construction, was an incredible fit for this team. She was given the task of designing and building the team’s concept, bringing the Greenhouse restaurant to life.

“I am very proud of our team and especially proud of the fact that we were able to recruit a member for the team from the School of Planning, Design and Construction,” said Jim Anhut, director of the REIM program at the School of Hospitality Business. “A great example of a cross-campus collaboration between two top programs in their respective fields.”

This unique collaboration between the two schools was incredibly valuable to the students. Through this opportunity, Jang learned about the commonalities between hospitality business and her focus of study, interior design. “Both are heavily user centered and require research to provide not only the company but the users a successful experience,” she said.

“I really enjoyed working with my other teammates. Although it was stressful, it was enjoyable to collaborate with students not within my major,” Jang continued. “I feel like interior design students are only exposed to other students because our program is so small, so I really valued the work I did with my teammates.”

The road to the national competition

Originally, the RFDC student competition was intended for one fielded team at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester. However, in response to students facing their internship offers being rescinded, Broad hospitality business faculty, staff and alumni worked together to offer internship credit leading up to the event.

Jeff Elsworth, associate professor, Bill Whitbeck, fixed-term faculty, and Anhut, with guidance from alumnus Billy Downs (B.A. Hotel & Restaurant Management ’88), organized a new opportunity in which student teams competed against one another for the chance to present at the national conference.

Sixteen students — including Team Greenhouse — participated in the internal competition this past summer. Other teams included the Mash, a clever food court concept; Betihana, a sports book and wing concept; and Stay and Enjoy, focused on desserts, drinks and companionship.

“Every concept took into account the fact that COVID will impact restaurant operations as we migrate toward the ‘next normal,’” Anhut said.

Students interfaced with alumni and industry practitioners including representatives from the world’s largest restaurant design firm, Livit. Downs invested numerous hours with the student teams, helping them refine concepts and providing a practical lens from someone who has founded a number of restaurant concepts since graduating from MSU. Elsworth provided a framework for developing a plan and lent his expertise with restaurant operations, Whitbeck was instrumental in assisting the students with cost analysis and insight into a new food and beverage concept in the STEM building, and Anhut assisted the students as a coach.

“The professors and alumni were more than happy to offer their time and advice whenever we needed it,” Chen said.

Along with the experience gained and internship credit, each student was awarded a scholarship to help with school expenses and to offset loss of income due to rescinded internship offers.

Ultimately, Team Greenhouse was the winner of the internal competition, going into the conference well rehearsed and prepared to showcase the incredible talent at MSU.