It’s 1969 and Wurster Hall is a campus hub of the massive resistance movement sweeping the nation in the wake of Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. While student groups gather to organize protests, others work creating the antiwar posters that will soon hang across campus and the surrounding community. What began as an ad hoc effort by a handful of CED students to keep fellow students fed while they operated the presses and planned sit-ins, has transformed nearly 50 years later into a new center for idea sharing, refueling, and relaxing, with much finer fare.
Award-winning culinary innovator, Charles Phan, partnered with CED to launch his newest endeavor — Rice & Bones — at the west entrance to Wurster Hall. Phan is the founder and executive chef of the famed Slanted Door and sister restaurants Out the Door, OTD and Hard Water, and a former student of architecture at CED.
Opened in October 2017, the new café is a radical change from its previous incarnations. Designed to serve the whole of the campus community, from students to faculty and visitors, it will not only feature an affordable menu of fresh, seasonal items, but will do so in a beautifully renovated setting, featuring the use of stunning recycled materials.
Lundberg Design collaborated with Phan on the interior, and PGAdesign, led by Chris Kent (M.L.A. ‘93), brought the new expanded outdoor plaza to fruition, with the support of the campus and a generous gift from CED alumnus Ong Tze Boon (B.Arch. ‘91). Bob LaLanne (B.Arch. ‘78) led planning for the project. “We’re so grateful to our family of CED alumni — like Charles, Chris, Bob, and Boon — who enable these kinds of wonderful collaborative endeavors that make CED such an excellent and remarkable place,” said CED Dean Jennifer Wolch.”
Tales regarding the founding of the original Ramona’s abound, with little documentation to support them. To be sure, it emerged during an era where, as is often said, “If you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.” But all who were there agree that it was a tumultuous time when the civil rights and free-speech movements empowered voices and the campus was newly ignited by antiwar activism. The ground-floor silk screening studio in Wurster Hall became an antiwar poster factory. Down the hall, in what is now the café space, students took over a space originally designed for exhibits, for use as an alternative classroom and all-hours meeting space where demonstrations, marches and other protest actions were planned.
To fuel these all-nighters and meetings, coffee became essential. According to CED alumna Gyöngy Laky (M.A. Design ’71), she and Barbara Williams (B.Arch. ‘70), Hayden Valdes (B.Arch. ‘74), Topher Delaney (B.A. Landscape Architecture ‘73), and others mobilized to supply a constant flow of caffeine. Donuts soon followed, and not long after, hundreds of egg salad and tuna sandwiches were being sold to nourish the growing numbers of student organizers, protesters, designers, and printers. Delaney reflected, “It was a good time to serve and a good time to stand up and be present.”
But the independent operation couldn’t go on indefinitely. According to Laky, “It was not long before the campus administration heard of our enterprise and, understandably, feared that we might poison ourselves with some form of food-borne bacteria. Alarmed, campus representatives demanded that we cease and desist. …After days of conversation and conflict, I and my friends met with the campus establishment and forged the agreement resulting in food service in Wurster Hall.” Their demands included that wholesome food be served — a legacy reflected in the new café.
The new Ramona’s was an informal place where the serving bowls and platters were made by ceramics students and jars of fresh flowers livened the tables. Since that time, the café has experienced various changes including a re-design by Fernau+Hartman Architects in the mid-1980s. But the name remained.
Restaurant names always seem to be accompanied by an interesting story. “Ramona” herself didn’t exist. Topher Delaney takes credit for the name though. “To me the name conjured a romantic idea of nostalgia,” she explained. “A competent, resilient woman who was skilled in the craft of food and skilled in the service of nourishment.”
The name Rice & Bones is born of similar ideals. Rice, of course, pays homage to Phan’s roots, as well as being a nourishing staple of many Asian cultures. Bones, Phan explains, are also about nourishment, as well as representing a more flavorful, frugal, and sustainable approach to cooking. “When I first started out 20 years ago, the trend was to use more expensive, boneless cuts of meat. But bones are what lend flavor to a dish, such as in a soup stock. It’s less wasteful, and less expensive to use these overlooked parts of the animal. And at the same time, it’s often what makes the humble everyday cuisines of many cultures so nourishing and delicious.”
The new Rice & Bones takes the concept of health and sustainability further. No bottled water or soda will be sold; instead the café features still and carbonated water stations, a daily agua fresca, and compostable cups. It is currently open for breakfast and lunch from 8am until 5pm during its soft opening period.
Dean Wolch couldn’t be happier. “Rice & Bones has been planned by Charles Phan to embody the spirit of the college: an affordable, sustainable, and welcoming place to nourish body and soul — in a beautiful environment where students can fuel up before studio, faculty can wind down on the patio after a long day of lectures, and alumni can reminisce over a glass of wine and nosh on something even more memorable than egg salad sandwiches.”