Food News

Better Than Room Service: This Tempe Hotel's Food Hall Serves Options for Everyone

Customers can order takeout or dine in at the Graduate Food Hall in Tempe.
Customers can order takeout or dine in at the Graduate Food Hall in Tempe. Graduate Hotels
Sometimes, the cravings for a burger and sushi hit at the same time.

Or maybe you want to grab a bite with friends before catching a show at Gammage, but your hungry entourage includes a vegan, a strict carnivore, and a finicky flexitarian.

And then there are those days when you don’t know what you're in the mood for, but you do know you’re starving.

An avant-garde concept that pushes culinary variety with efficiency, the Graduate Tempe hotel’s Food Hall serves solutions for such conundrums.

A ghost kitchen on the property churns out a bevy of lunch and dinner dishes from eight different concepts spanning American, Asian and Mediterranean cuisines with some fusion in the mix. A second kitchen in the bar serves as a bakery that offers breakfast pastries and sandwiches on bagels and croissants.

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An array of crunchy fried goodness is ready to go from Sam's Crispy Chicken, one of the restaurant concepts at the Graduate Tempe's Food Hall.
Graduate Hotels
This means a fantasy of ordering a truffle burger, yellowfin tacos in a crispy gyoza shell, a mango salmon bowl, a falafel wrap, meatless "chicken" wings, a spicy tuna roll, and a Neapolitan milkshake in one sitting can be reality.

The location in the middle of a residential neighborhood, across the street from Gammage, and smack dab in the middle of ASU country creates an ideal customer storm that keeps the Food Hall busy seven days a week. Many nearby residents take advantage of the happy hour deals, says Graduate Tempe general manager Andrew Harris.

Business is generated equally from dine-in and takeout or delivery customers, Harris says. There are special discounts for ASU students, and Gammage goers who dine at the Food Hall can park for free.

“We’ve been really thrilled with how it’s been received so far. People have responded well to the variety. Where can you get sushi and Mediterranean at the same shop?” Harris asks.

A veteran of the hotel industry, Harris says for a hotel to take advantage of this platform for food service is cutting edge.

“In my experience, food and beverage was treated more like an amenity, something you had to have. This feels as though we are treating food and beverage the way it should be treated, like it’s its own thing,” Harris says. “And it’s not just an experience for people who come to the hotel to eat. It’s accessible to anyone with wi-fi."

This extravaganza is not limited to the hotel's boundaries. Anyone with internet access can place orders for pickup or delivery from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily.

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The signature burger is one of many handhelds served at Umami Burger, one of the many restaurant concepts at the Graduate Tempe hotel's Food Hall.
Graduate Hotels
In addition to a something-for-everybody concept, the Food Hall provides a solution to restaurant staffing woes, fluctuating costs, and other uncontrollable factors currently keeping the food and beverage industry guessing.

The hotel’s previous onsite restaurant had closed. That kitchen is now siloed into two distinct sections with each side responsible for four lunch and dinner concepts, with the Asian menus done on one side and the burger, chicken, and Mediterranean menus on the other.

Step-by-step instructions of how to create each dish leave a playbook for anyone stepping in. The format is designed to make prep smooth and quick, and the goal is to have orders ready in 10 minutes.

When the Graduate Tempe opened its Food Hall in February, it was the first Graduate hotel to do so. Since then, the Iowa City and Ann Arbor hotels have come on board, with Berkeley eyed as the fourth among the hotel’s three-dozen locations nationwide.

The proximity to a major university made Tempe a good market to give this new system a try, explains Kevin Osterhaus, president of the Nashville-based Graduate hotel chain. Having a large kitchen ready to go made the case stronger.

“It’s a hotel where we could easily incorporate that concept into the hotel guest experience. The community around it has responded so well,” Osterhaus says.

It comes to life through a partnership between Graduate and C3, a California-based food technology platform that uses underutilized kitchens to create food halls with mobile delivery options, something that became essential during the pandemic.

Osterhaus explains that after the last two years, the company noticed a shift in people’s relationship with restaurants. Getting food dropped on their doorstep after a few touches on their phones had become routine. They also sought new ways to interact with restaurants and engage from a safe distance. The Food Hall responds to all of it.

Multiple menus that use the same ingredients, made by the same staff create efficiency, while the variety of food keeps customers coming back for more.

When C3 CFO Jay Patel travels, he can’t help but look at all of the Postmates and UberEats bags outside of hotel doors. He sees this as visual proof of why his company’s technology has a long future.

“The hotel food experience hasn’t been good for years. People are not ordering room service like they used to. People want a better product,” Patel says.

Full-service fine dining at luxury hotels will never go away, Patel says. However, he sees this as the future for thousands of hotels like the Graduate.

Harris agrees. For the most part.

“I see this definitely being a possibility for other hotels down the line,” Harris says. “Whether they can execute as well as Graduate does, I don’t know.”

Graduate Tempe

225 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe
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Georgann Yara is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who's also a proud equal opportunity eater. She loves all things Arizona, including the professional sports teams that continue to break her heart. Food, cocktails and cats dominate her IG.
Contact: Georgann Yara