RoundupReads Taste the Changes as Building 3 Café Reopens

Taste the Changes as Building 3 Café Reopens

by Catherine Ragin Williams | 2019-09-30

After approximately five months and perhaps added steps on our fitness monitors to get food during breakfast and lunch hours, a welcome change is coming to NASA’s Johnson Space Center effective Monday, Sept. 30: the Building 3 Starport Café reopens — and what you’ll find there is something for every palate on-site.

The results of the construction and upgrades, though, will not be readily apparent to visitors on reopening day.

“Most of our customers are going to walk in and wonder, ‘Why has this been closed for five months?’” said Greg Della Longa, Starport’s associate operations and Johnson food service manager. “But a significant amount of work has been done behind the scenes.”

What Johnson team members will notice is a different level in the cuisine offerings, a wider array of choices, improved speed during high-traffic periods and engaging service spearheaded by Compass Group.

New to the Building 3 team is Executive Chef Davin Tilley from Compass Group, who already has a dizzying selection of dishes masterminded for opening week and beyond. Some of the new fare speak to the center’s southern roots, as well as the infusion of cultures you can find on campus. 

“I think everybody in Texas loves barbecue, so we’re working on getting a smoker on-site,” Tilley said. “(We’ll have) pork, beef, ribs, brisket, brisket tacos, brisket grilled cheese, different items like that.”

Taco selections will be expanded to include breakfast options, in addition to the standard morning fare, and even a build-your-own station.

And for those not into the standard grill or deli items, healthy options will abound — as well as cuisine targeted for those on special diets requiring gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan choices. (On opening day, Tilley will unveil a wild green salmon salad with vegetables, in case readers would like to prime their taste buds in advance.)

All the magic will happen in the newly remodeled kitchen, which is the star of the significant investment that the center, Center Operations and Starport poured into the café.

 “Most of the changes are actually in the back of the kitchen,” Della Longa said. “A new kitchen floor, plumbing under the building, a large walk-in cooler, updated kitchen equipment …”

And while Tilley will be a new face, all the employees Johnson team members may be familiar with are returning.    

In about another month, more cosmetic changes will add to the modernization of the café. The eatery and ordering area will get wrapped in oversized space graphics that speak to Johnson’s significant legacy and ongoing leadership in human space exploration, exhibiting a future on the Moon and destinations like Mars. The reopened café also hopes to add some new technology and futuristic features of its own as the expansion goes forward.

“As we open, we are going to talk about the technology, possibly (introducing) online ordering,” said Paul Baerenstecher, district manager for Compass Group. “(And) potential delivery to buildings as well. Want to enhance our catering business.”

Starport and Compass are working to make it not just easier to stay and dine on-site, but the first choice for the Johnson team.

But, at the end of the day, it’s really just about the food.

“We’re in hospitality, but we always focus on food,” Baerenstecher said. “We look at our chefs as being the people highlighted, and I can’t stress that more. Our associates interact with our customers the most, so we believe in keeping them happy.”


Chef Davin Tilley from Compass Group pauses for a photo inside the state-of-the-art walk-in cooler in the Building 3 café kitchen. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair

‘Fall’ in love with what’s new starting Sept. 30!

Building 3 café hours: 7 to 9:30 a.m. (breakfast) and 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (lunch)

Coffee cart: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (new expanded hours)

Building 3 gift shop: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Chef Davin Tilley shows off the upgrades put into the kitchen of Building 3. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair
Gleaming new appliances were part of the Building 3 café remodel. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair
A huge, new cooler will refrigerate a plethora of food options for the Johnson Space Center team. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair
The kitchen expansion project included a new floor, plumbing under the building, walk-in cooler, updated kitchen equipment and more. Cosmetic changes to the eatery will come in October. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair