(Photo by T2 Photography, Thomas Boutwell)

Auburn University’s hospitality management program takes a great leap forward this month with the opening of the Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, where undergraduate and graduate students will combine hands-on experience with traditional classroom training.

The 140,000 square-foot facility includes a luxury hotel and spa, a restaurant, coffee roastery, brewery, and a food hall.

Each educational lab at the center focuses on different culinary specialties, including pastry-making, catering, winemaking, running wine programs, distilling, brewing, and even food styling and photographing.

All students will minor in business administration to ensure graduates have all the skills they will need to be successful entrepreneurs.

“The Center affords a great opportunity to add significant value to the curriculum and greatly enhance the student learning experience,” says Dr. Martin O’Neill, Horst Schulze Endowed Professor of Hospitality Management at Auburn University. “From freshmen to senior year, undergraduate students will engage fully with the day-to-day operation of the Center and its customers.”

The Hey Day Market food hall opens in mid-August. Named for a campus bonding tradition, the 10,000 square-foot space features eight permanent food stalls, serving Malaysian-style street noodles, Cuban-style sandwiches, burgers, tacos, pizza, bowls, and gelato. The ninth stall is an incubator for students testing new concepts. Hey Day Market also includes a podcast studio. 

(Photo by T2 Photography, Thomas Boutwell)

The Laurel, the teaching hotel in the center that’s billed as the state’s first ultra-luxury hotel and spa, opens August 29. Other components are slated to follow soon, including:

  • 1856 (named for the year Auburn University was founded), a high-end teaching restaurant where students will prepare and serve an a-la-carte lunch menu and a tasting menu at dinner under the supervision of a chef-in-residence, who rotates annually
  • A café and micro-roastery, where students can hone their skills from bean processor to barista
  • The Brewing Science Laboratory, which features a brewery, tasting room, and quality-control laboratory
  • A rooftop terrace for Laurel guests that includes a lounge and event space. Students will tend a large garden growing organic produce for the restaurant.

The Rane Center’s inaugural chef in residence is Tyler Lyne, whose experience includes training at the Culinary Institute of America, working in the kitchens of top restaurants in New York City and abroad, and running a celebrity catering company.

Most recently, Lyne and his wife, Jennifer, have offered a dining experience at their Birmingham home, called “Tasting TBL,” which is built around a tasting menu. Jennifer Lyne will oversee the pastry kitchen at 1856 during the residency.

The center’s lead oenophile is Thomas M. Price, who will manage the wine program at the 1856 restaurant, teach classes, lead seminars, and oversee wine-related certification efforts by students.

(Photo by T2 Photography, Thomas Boutwell)

Price was certified as a Master Sommelier in 2012, the first Black person ever to attain that advanced title. For the past eight years, Price has been a visiting sommelier for Auburn’s Hospitality Management program.

Envisioned more than a decade ago by Schulze, the co-founder of Ritz-Carlton hotels, the $95 million Rane Center project is operated by Ithaka Hospitality Partners of Auburn.

The center is named for the parents of Auburn alumnus and trustee Jimmy Rane, founder and CEO of Great Southern Wood Preserving, who gave $12 million toward the $110 million project.

Hans van der Reijden, Ithaka’s founder, says the Rane Center not only will benefit students in the program, but Auburn overall.

“Students will graduate with not only academic knowledge but also with hands-on experience from real consumer-facing entities … that they wouldn’t have access to throughout the school year otherwise,” he says in a statement. “Beyond the educational impact, our goal is for the Rane Center to be an experience for the greater community and put Auburn on the map as a college town offering destination-worthy amenities for visitors.”