A New and Wildly Popular Eatery at Carnegie Mellon University Is Run By Students

From the moment it opened in late February, Capital Grains was a smashing success.
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When Carnegie Mellon University student David You agreed to head an experimental project for the school’s dining services department, some would say he was biting off more than he could chew. 

The senior business administration major was also juggling a minor in computer science, a Google internship and multiple extracurricular activities. Undaunted by his hectic schedule, he developed an on-campus eatery that, like CMU’s 32 other dining concepts, is open to the public. 

“This is my capstone project,” says You, who is moving to San Francisco this summer to work full time for Google. “I’ve always been a big believer that it’s important to be involved in the community and clubs.”

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Chartwells, CMU’s primary dining vendor, operates in 300 colleges and universities across the country. Capital Grains is its first student-run eatery. 

Located in Rohr Commons on the second floor of the Tepper Building, the fast-casual concept features customizable bowls and salads made with whole grains, fresh vegetables and proteins, including tofu. It is open from noon to 3 p.m. weekend days during the academic year.

Capital Grains debuted on Saturday, Feb. 25. By the end of business hours on Sunday, Feb. 26, the staff had prepared more than 400 bowls — impressive for a place that’s only open 360 minutes each week.

“We were expected to make $4,000 by the end of the semester and I was going to be very happy,” You says, a proud smile spreading across his face. “We reached $4,800 by the end of the first week.”



He chalks up Capital Grains’ success to the student body’s desire for healthier on-campus grub and his hand-picked, 11-member staff, including sophomore Prisha Goyal, who serves as chief marketing officer. The applicants included undergraduate and graduate students representing all schools at CMU.

Goyal, who is studying business administration, organized a menu sampling event, where student feedback was collected and analyzed. She also helmed the grand opening festivities and is in charge of public relations. She says the project melds academics with real world situations.

“As a student who believes in learning by doing, I am always seeking opportunities to learn and grow,” she says. “Working on a first-of-its-kind initiative, led and managed by students, was a challenge that excited me as I would learn to navigate the challenges of building and running a business. The mission of Capital Grains to develop a fast-casual concept with healthy food options also drew me in as I wanted to make a positive impact on the CMU community.”


All Capital Grains students are paid an hourly wage and receive independent study credits for their work, which ranges from participating in weekly board meetings to preparing and selling food. And while the enterprising pupils are proving themselves quite capable of running an eatery on their own, they do receive guidance from professor Sun Kee Lee along with Dining Services Director Joseph Beaman and Chartwells’ District Regional Manager Mike Tokarek and their respective staff members.

About a year ago, Beaman and Tokarek came up with the idea for a sustainable, student-run dining concept. After seeing the way You expertly organized an orientation session for 1,700 first-year undergrads, they knew they had found a proven leader. You even returned from summer break a week early to obtain his Pennsylvania Restaurant Manager Certification and set up standard operating procedures for Capital Grains.

Aside from purchasing a new rice warmer and a second refrigerator, CMU and Chartwells didn’t have to dish out a lot of money to get Capital Gains off the ground. 

“It’s a huge win,” Beaman says. “It’s our biggest win on campus this year and it’s part of the educational model. People talk about it a lot.”

Capital Grains’ Chief Financial Officer Raphael Isea Rodriguez can attest to that. The first-year business administration student regularly receives pats on the back from friends who are fans of the food. He also is getting hands-on experience making financial statements and tracking costs and revenue trends, something he never got to do while working as a busser back home in North Bethesda, Maryland. 

Junior Michael Maddalon serves as chief operating officer, which aligns with his future goals in the hospitality industry. 

“Students are completely choosing the menu, the recipes, the marketing, the compensation,” he says. “It’s a very cool project and a unique opportunity.”

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And he digs the food, too — particularly the Seed Funding, a grain bowl containing brown rice, quinoa, pickled red onions, cucumbers, corn, chickpeas and baked chicken with a house-made cilantro lime dressing.

Beaman and Tokarek are in talks with other universities in Chartwells’ framework that want to add similar culinary operations to give their students a taste of the real world. 

“It’s entrepreneurship with guardrails,” You says. “You learn a diverse set of skills in a safe environment. This is all part-time for us, but the most important part is the learning aspect.”

He is confident Capital Grains’ success will continue after he graduates. 

His heart and belly are full.

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