New changes breathe life into vista room
Andrew Mason steadily diced cucumbers and red peppers, as America’s 1972 hit song “A Horse with No Name” softly filled the Vista Room kitchen. A large plastic vat of bright red watermelon puree sat next to him, waiting to be mixed with the vegetables he spent most his morning cutting for that day’s special: watermelon gazpacho.
Mason works in the kitchen of the Vista Room restaurant, a lab that offers hospitality and tourism students hands-on experience in the industry which reopened its doors Sept. 21 after completing the first renovations since its debut 20 years ago. The hospitality and business departments spent the summer restoring the space by painting its walls, refurnishing and replacing all the flatware.
According to Vista Room waiter and hospitality student Brittney Lujan, the old space had a dated look that did not represent the modern hospitality business.
“The old space had mint green curtains that weren’t that great, some fake marbling, old tables, and most of the linens were white,” Lujan said. “There wasn’t any specific vibe they were going for, and these renovations definitely have more of a theme.”
In place of the older fine dining decor, the restaurant opted for a modern feel with the redesign, according to Colin Johnson, the hospitality department chair. Black Walnut tables set with simple white plates and polished silverware provide contrast to the steel gray walls.
“The Vista Room has been a great servant to the university over many years,” Johnson said. “We felt it was time to give it a kind of refresher.”
The restaurant is a lab class shared between hospitality and tourism management, dietetics and consumer and family studies students to give them experience in the day-to-day process of the food service industry, according to Vista Room coordinator Sybil Yang.
“This is an educational setting, so it gives you the opportunity to slow down and observe what’s going on around you,” said Mason, who is a kitchen staffer at the Vista Room. “It’s really good because it teaches you how to do everything you would need to do in a restaurant, but in a slower pace so you can really take in all the details.”
In addition to the physical renovations, Vista Room management changed policies, including an expanded and simplified reservation system, added accommodations for walk-in guests and additional payment options for customers.
“When I tell people that we will be able to take walk-ins, they are surprised and happy,” said Vista Room general manager Joe Lavilla. “A lot of people are happy they can use their credit card and they don’t have to prepay, because that was not a very easy system to navigate.”
The new policy changes make the restaurant more cost-effective, according to Vista Room coordinator Sybil Yang. The revenue generated from customers covers staff training and ingredients for the restaurant, Yang said. The new policies simplify access to the restaurant, maintaining a steady amount of customers and revenue, she said.
“It’s very important for us to get enough guests through the door in order to offset the costs of doing all the training upfront ahead of time,” Yang said.
In their push to modernize the restaurant, the management team worked with Lavilla and new head chef Tim Shaw to create a restaurant with sustainability at its core. With their background in sustainable food service, Shaw and Lavilla said they plan to serve local produce, dairy and meat.
“I was brought on to help give a local and sustainable slant to the food here at the Vista Room,” Shaw said. “I’ve gotten some really good feedback on the food and how it’s focusing more on freshness and variety.”
The management team hopes to turn the Vista Room into a destination for SF State students and food enthusiasts, Lavilla said.
“I’d like to see us be the first place that the campus community thinks to come to for a nicer-than-average lunch,” Lavilla said. “I want this to be the first place that other departments come to host their events. While we’re part of the campus community, we want to be even more integrated into it and be a resource for the other departments.”