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53 Bites Cafe: FORE Systems employees savor the flavor of a new type of corporate cafeteria.

FORE Systems employees savor the flavor of a new type of corporate cafeteria.

WARRENDALE, PA - 53 Bites Cafe is a place where customers can order wood-fired pizza, homemade bread, grilled salmon, and more. Want an artichoke and goat cheese pizza instead of pepperoni? You bet. Think your chili is the finest? Give them the recipe and they'll use it. They'll even bake a birthday cake. Some people call it the best restaurant in town, The only people who know it, however, are the employees of FORE Systems Inc.

The 15,600-square-foot 53 Bites Cafe is the corporate campus cafeteria of FORE Systems, a fast-growing upstart computer company in Warrendale, PA, that produces high-performance networking products. The cafe is part of a new, 300,000-square-foot complex currently comprised of three separate buildings. Located in building No. 3, the eating area will eventually be located in the heart of the complex as two additional buildings are constructed to complete the consolidated corporate headquarters.

As a computer company based in Pennsylvania, the owners of FORE Systems knew their new corporate campus had to compete with facilities in the employee-alluring Silicon Valley. "Pennsylvania is not an area known for its high-tech industry. Drawing new recruits can be a challenge and certainly having all of the same types of facilities that the competitors have is important," explains William J. Bates, AIA, director of real estate corporate services at FORE Systems. Executive management also wanted to provide a time-efficient alternative to off-campus restaurants and encourage employee interaction in an informal, innovative space. "We wanted to build something that conveyed our cutting-end image plus our culture," Bates adds.

The casual flow of the servery area, which cost about $1 million to construct, is a manifestation of this goal. Customers are not corralled into lines filing past stainless steel pans of warming food. Allan Greenberg, president of Hospitality Services Inc., a Baltimore, MD-based food service planning and design firm, states the servery is more like a dell case at a supermarket, where customers come up to the counter randomly and chefs take their orders as they arrive. "The space is an ellipse," describes project architect and San Francisco-based STUDIOS Architecture associate principal Jerry Griffin. "Around the perimeter of this ellipse are different food stations."

The three food stations are: pizza/pasta, bakery and dell, and grill/entrees/specialty cooking. The copper-clad pizza and pasta station is the visual focus of the servery, featuring a black-and-white checkered wood-fired oven. There are calzones, roasted vegetables, baked pasta dishes, eight different styles of pizza, and chefs saute pasta with a variety of sauces, vegetables, and seafood. Every morning, customers are greeted by the smell of hot cinnamon rolls baked fresh in the bakery area, which also provides breads to the adjacent deli. The deli offers subs, wraps, pitas, and more. Chefs work at saute ranges, wok ranges, and a charbroiler in the grill/entrees/specialty cooking area, where they make daily specials and cooked-to-order items right in front of customers.

Each station provides its own spice to the area with a splash of vibrant color, applied architectural elements, and a dash of food-preparation pizzazz. A merging concept in food service called "kitchen forward" was applied to the cafe. Instead of hidden in a kitchen, chefs prepare meals in front of customers, who, in turn, are drawn to these culinary shows by vibrant colors, signs designating each station, and other architectural elements. For example, large pieces of plywood appear to be flying at customers, giving the illusion that the grill/entrees/specialty cooking area kitchen has exploded. "The reason for this was to make it different and eye-catching," Griffin says. The decor and application of track lighting mimic a retail setting. "You feel like you are going out to eat and not just going down to the company cafeteria," he adds.

In addition to the three food stations, customers have the option of using a grab-n-go area along the perimeter. Two salad bars are located in the middle of the servery. The only elements that define traffic flow are the two cashier stations located near the exit.

The second component of the cafe is the dining area, which is across from the servery and separated by a hallway. An open, airy, two-level pavilion. lit primarily by natural light from two exterior walls of glass curtainwall, seats 355 people. Harmonizing with the rest of the facility, this interior is mainly exposed masonry, bowstring trusses, and stained concrete flooring mixed with lively purple carpeting to reduce noise. "These start-up [computer companies] come out of the garage, metaphoricily or literally, and we tried to keep that kind of industrial aesthetic," Griffin states. Natural wood chairs give warmth to the space.

The atmosphere is enhanced by the lack of doors separating the dining area and servery from the rest of the building. This also continues the free-flowing, welcoming atmosphere of the cafe. The openness made it essential that the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system keep the area's aromas from drifting. Three rooftop units circulate 20-percent fresh air to the space, which is negatively pressurized, keeping aromas confined. The air is then released through seven exhaust canopies. Additional heat is provided by hot water, radiant heating around the perimeter of the dining area next to the exterior glass walls.

The cafe's atmosphere, flexibility, and location have made it a social activity and meeting area for the company. All-employee and some smaller staff meetings are held in the space. Bates himself says he sometimes holds morning staff meetings in the dining area. Company TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) parties are also held there. The occasional parties feature entertainment, including disc jockeys, carnival games, or remote control car races and offer food and beverages. A video wall with a 120-inch television is used for special occasions. The area has even been requested for at least one employee's wedding reception, says Bates. It is so popular with employees that many invite their families in for lunch.

For many FORE System workers, the cafe, which took about one year to complete, has become more than just a great place to eat. It has become a place to relax and regroup in the midst of a busy work day.

On-line Eats

Employees at FORE Systems don't have to walk to 53 Bites Cafe to see the daily specials. All they have to do is hook into the company's intranet webpage.

Employees can also submit comments and recipes to Parkhurst Dining Services, the Pittsburgh-based food service management company that manages 53 Bites Cafe. The company uses the recipes as they cycle through their menus.

Project Team

Owner: FORE Systems Inc. Food Service Planning & Design: Hospitality Services Inc. Architect: STUDIOS Architecture Mechanical Design/Build Contractors: McKamish Chesapeake Electrical Design/Build Contractors: Rost Enterprises General Contractor: Mascaro Inc.


Blinds/Window Treatments: Bali; Hunter Douglas Ceilings: Capaul Doors/Storefronts: Overhead Door; Vistawall Elevators: Schindler Facade: Centria Floorcoverings: Dal-Tile; Prince St. Hardware: LCN; Schlage; Von Duprin HVAC: Ajax; McQuay Roofing: Berridge; WR Grace Structural: Vulcraft Walls/Partitions: USG Windows/Glass: PPG

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Elaine Watkins-Miller ( is senior associate editor at Buildings magazine.
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Author:Watkins-Miller, Elaine
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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