1899 shows how a campus venue can be a community restaurant

Interior of the 1899 restaurant.

Judging by the numbers, the 1899 Bar & Grill has found a niche. Now it’s looking for a place in the minds of more community patrons.

Sales and guest visits are up nicely year-over-year at the outwardly understated venue on the northern edge of the Northern Arizona University campus, and a steady flow of regulars helps populate the lunch and dinner crowd.

Yet the 1899, with a menu ranging from affordable lunches to top-end tenderloins, still seeks to clarify the perceptions of potential customers as it eyes continued growth.

“Part of the challenge is to get the word out that 1899 is more than a campus restaurant,” said Glenn Kvidahl, general manager. “There may be a perception that comes with being part of campus that parking is hard to get to or that the public isn’t welcome.”

Such perceptions, Kvidahl pointed out, are simply incorrect. Parking along Dupont Avenue and in the High Country Conference Center garage—for which the restaurant validates—is plentiful. And as with most other food venues on campus, the public is welcome.

Yet there’s no denying that 1899, which is leased from NAU Foundation’s real estate holding company, benefits from its association with, and proximity to, NAU. Staff frequent the restaurant at lunch and faculty often hold meetings there over a meal. Revenue from student meal plan usage was up more than $100,000 in 2012, which Kvidahl said opens an opportunity for future business.

“We really look at 1899 as an integral part of campus dining,” Kvidahl said. “We provide an alternative at a different level. It behooves us to make that freshman experience as good as it possibly can be, and I think the 1899 contributes to that experience.”

Despite the growth in student spending, the 1899 still seeks a greater community appeal to push its financials in a positive direction. Total sales at the restaurant, which opened in March 2011, broke $1 million in 2012, buoyed by more than 45,000 guests.

According to Jay Graves, operations director, the 1899 experience satisfies more than just the need for an alternative to on-campus dining. There’s a level of responsiveness that goes along with a menu and atmosphere that are above casual but not at the level of white-glove fine dining.

“We’ve kind of found a niche in Flagstaff,” Graves said. “We really work with our servers to pay attention to our guests and to listen to what they’re saying.”

Customer satisfaction scores, generated by feedback surveys, reflect the approach. The restaurant scores well above 4 on a scale of 1-5 in all areas of value and service.

That attentiveness goes beyond merely creating an enjoyable visit. The menu itself reflects input from guests, changing to address frequent requests or insightful suggestions.

“We get a lot of input from the students who come in,” Graves said, adding that suggestions from other frequent customers have also been implemented. “It’s a matter of reshuffling the way that you think.”

One example is a popular soup, half-sandwich, half-salad combination—two out of the three for $7 at lunchtime—that demonstrates 1899’s commitment to bring in more community traffic while solidifying its campus base.

“We want to be equitable with other restaurants in town,” Graves said. “We look at their price points and what they’re serving because we know it can be tough to get people from the community to come in.”

With live music twice a week, an open patio on the edge of NAU’s revitalized Quad, and an ongoing focus on high-quality food and service, the 1899 hopes to entice the interest of customers looking for unpretentious, pleasant ambiance and a satisfying dining experience.