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Kara Landolfi said she felt “super excited” as she helped greet hundreds of hungry people at this month’s opening of Rendezvous, Montana State University’s newest and largest $18.2 million dining hall.

“I think it’s going to be one of the greatest gathering spots on campus,” said Landolfi. She is farm-to-campus coordinator for MSU, bringing Montana-grown beef and bison, lentils, carrots and other foods to campus kitchens.

“It’s amazing food,” she said, “and it’s a really cool building.”

Rendezvous will also be MSU’s most sustainable dining hall. No throwaway coffee cups will be used in its coffee shop. Instead customers will be urged to bring refillable mugs or donate reusable mugs. No throwaway straws are planned.

Food waste will be composted, in partnership with the city.

In the side room for collecting dirty dishes, metal funnels make it easy to scrape uneaten food into composting containers.

The new 830-seat dining hall is intended to contribute to MSU’s drive to recruit and keep students, said Tom Stump, associate vice president of auxiliary services, who welcomed more than 700 visitors to the opening ceremony.

As student President Taylor Blossom said, the dining hall is where new students find that strangers become friends, where “you build your college family.”

The 30,000-square-foot dining hall was built between the Johnstone Center dorms and Chemistry and Biochemistry building.

Money to build it came — not from taxpayer or tuition dollars — but from money MSU charges students who use dorms and dining halls for repair and replacement, and bond debt that’s covered by those auxiliary funds.

Stump said Rendezvous’ opening marks the culmination of about seven years of work. Years ago, he said, MSU President Waded Cruzado challenged his team to make the food service more sustainable and the dining and dorm facilities better. Women’s basketball coach Tricia Binford also urged him to check out rival colleges’ facilities, saying MSU’s weren’t up to par.

Cruzado called the new dining pavilion, featuring modern, sleek lines and lots of glass, “one of the most beautiful buildings in our state.” She said she “marveled at the elegance of the design” by Mosaic Architecture as well as the landscaping. Everything about it, she said, “radiates quality, light, life and energy.”

Cruzado thanked everyone who works to make MSU the “university of choice for the best students in Montana and the region.” MSU has grown steadily in the past decade to become the state’s largest campus and expects to grow modestly again this fall.

Rich Huffman, culinary services director, was excited to show off Rendezvous’ eight food stations. Food is made from scratch, not popped from a can or freezer, he said, like when he was growing up.

One Eleven, named for MSU’s longitude, serves coffee and pastries, and professors and other customers who aren’t on the meal plan are welcome to stop in and buy espresso and desserts — like Monday’s crème brûlée.

The 89’er Diner, named for the year Montana became a state, offers burgers, fries and shakes. Forge 406, decorated with Montana cattle brands, has a smoker and rotisserie. Rosso offers pizza. XO (pronounced “zo”) serves Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. Etcetera has salads and sandwiches. Razz serves smoothies and fresh fruit. De La Mesa serves Mexican dishes and fresh-baked tortillas, made with dough from the local On The Rise bakery.

Upstairs there’s lots of seating, plus a sports lounge with TV screens — “like Buffalo Wild Wings without the beer,” Huffman joked. There’s a ski lounge area with a fireplace and map of Big Sky ski runs. The outdoor patio upstairs offers views of the mountains to the north and to the south, the Bobcat Spirit sculpture and Montana Hall.

Langlas Construction finished the job early, Huffman said.

The biggest challenge for Rendezvous, he said, has been hiring staff. Gallatin County has a 2.3 percent unemployment rate, one of the lowest in the state, and fast-food restaurants are offering $15 an hour.

“We have competitive wages, but not the highest wages,” Huffman said, so he stresses benefits, like some free tuition for full-time workers.

Rendezvous got high marks from Brian Jore, a senior in computer science. He used to work at the old Harrison dining hall, which will now be used to teach culinary arts classes.

“It surpassed my expectations,” Jore said. “All the different venues are amazing.”

“I love the upstairs and downstairs seating,” said Makenna Daniels, an early child development major.

Bob Burrows and Brittany Selvig from the Bozeman School District’s food service program, liked what they saw.

“This is great, this is state of the art,” Burrows said. “You can tell a lot of planning went into this. A lot of attention to detail.”

“Amazing,” Selvig said.

Huffman even showed off the napkins — brown paper, non-bleached, compostable napkins. And on the back is printed, “Eat your veggies. Love, Mom.”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

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