Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Zaya Mediterranean Cuisine, also known as Zaya at Dooley’s Den at the Depot, is set to undergo an interior design transformation along with menu changes by the end of the upcoming winter break, according to Senior Director of University Food Service Administration David Furhman.

The restaurant, sandwiched between Eagle Row and two sets of train tracks, is a trademark of New Orleans-based 3 of a Kind Restaurant Group, which held a contract with Emory’s food services provider Sodexo USA to serve students there. When Emory’s 10-year contract with Sodexo ends on May 31, the University will switch to a new provider, Bon Appétit, on June 1.

As Emory Dining has only begun planning for the renovations and is in the process of gathering student feedback for the new and improved Zaya, “nothing’s off limits right now” in terms of potential changes to the popular post-party eatery, according to Furhman.

“We really need to renovate that building,” Furhman said, calling the spot “a great location” for its proximity to the Freshman Quadrangle.

“I want to make that space a warm, comfortable, inviting space,” Furhman said. “I want students to say, ‘Let’s go to the Depot and hang out there.’ I want it to be a preferred place on campus.”

As for the restaurant’s possible changes, Furhman suggested including a small performance venue, more salad and burger options and diner-style food. Though he said there were no plans in place for a formal survey of students’ hopes for the Zaya makeover, Furhman said student feedback through informal discussions and Food Advisory Committee at Emory (FACE) meetings would steer much of the planning.

Zaya is working to transition from Sodexo to Bon Appétit as a third-party contractor but will most likely retain its name, according to Furhman. Bon Appétit, he added, will be involved in the renovations in the likely event that Zaya gains a contract with the University’s new food provider. Zaya Regional Manager Marshall Edge said he hopes to see a setup similar to the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Zaya Mediterranean Grill, which is also owned by 3 of a Kind.

“We would have a smaller menu with an open kitchen, so that by the time you get from the cashier to the counter, your food is ready,” Edge said, adding that Zaya’s current business model is too slow, overloaded with menu options and hardly sustainable over the summer.

Edge said he would prefer to move the kitchen and counter to the elevated area of the restaurant, the side closest to the fraternity houses on Eagle Row, and keep the rest of it — including where the restaurant’s counter sits now — open for seating. The menu, he added, should also be whittled down to a few popular meals.

“This menu is a Frankenstein of three different restaurants,” he said, referring to 3 of a Kind’s other subsidiaries, which include Burger Bytes, Byblos Mediterranean Cuisine and Salú Southern European Bistro. “I’m not saying we want to get rid of all the options, but we do want to streamline the menu.”

The number of different meals Zaya offers strains the restaurant’s budget, Edge said, adding that customer traffic — he estimated about 40 patrons daily — hasn’t helped.

“Renovation here would be amazing, but the ideal would be to move [Zaya] to Cox Hall,” Edge said.

Seated at a table in the nearly-empty restaurant in Thursday afternoon, College freshman Simon Crespo expressed similar frustration with Zaya’s inefficiencies.

“It’d be nice if there were more cashiers, just more staff in general,” he said, adding that ordering food at Zaya “takes a lot of time” and that he wished there could be more outdoor tables. Still, as a waitress lowered a steaming bowl of spaghetti topped with Parmesan onto his table, Crespo said with a smile that he hoped the menu would stay the same.

Unlike Crespo, College junior Chrissy Grech, who doesn’t frequent Zaya, said she would appreciate some new menu options, as the current offerings are “just not my favorite food.”

College junior Rachel Storms said she would miss the Depot’s vintage feel and that she lamented the upcoming changes.

School of Medicine Research Specialist Sangeeta Yellumahanti, a self-described “regular here” at Zaya, said she’s satisfied with the current menu.

“Structure-wise, it should stay the same,” she added, emphasizing the place’s uniquely-Emory qualities.

Pam Franklin, who has worked at Zaya since August and said the employees had been informed of the future renovations, also said she thinks the menu needs to change. She specifically cited seafood as a popular request among student patrons and also suggested the possibility of a weekly karaoke night as a way to bring in more customers.

“I hope it’s a little more spacious in the kitchen,” Franklin said, adding that she hopes the restaurant’s interior can have more of a “college feel,” with Emory banners and posters, in the future.

Still, like Storms, she said she hopes the restaurant will retain its “classic” look.

“Everyone who comes in after being away from Emory for a while says, ‘I used to come here 15 years ago!’ and I hope it stays that way,” Franklin said.

– By Lydia O’Neal
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A College senior studying economics and French, Lydia O’Neal has written for The Morning Call, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports Magazine and USA Today College. She began writing for the News section during her freshman year and began illustrating for the Wheel in the spring of her junior year. Lydia is studying in Paris for the fall 2015 semester.