A&E

A byte to eat

Inside Union 82, tech-company Symantec's public eatery

From Facebook to Google, to work for a tech company in Silicon Valley is to have easy access to a host of dining options that are often exclusive to employees.

Mountain View cyber-security company Symantec offers the same amenities as many of its peers, but sets itself apart by making its new eatery, Union 82, open to the public.

Quite a few non-employees patronize the cafe, and Becky Laden, a development manager at Symantec, said a tech company opening its own eatery to the public is "not common practice." Local tech giants such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Apple have private cafes and restaurants that are open to employees and their guests, but don't take walk-ins.

"Symantec is a collaborative space," said Eric Drake, a district manager. "We want people from other companies to feel comfortable coming into the inner world and experience it. The decision to make (Union 82) open to the public environment is to attract other tech companies and people who have interest in Symantec's product and services they provide and to be able to feel invited into the space."

Union 82, named for the company's origins in 1982, has the feel of a modern-day coffee shop, but with more amenities than a typical Starbucks. There are tables for poker, checkers and pool. A giant Scrabble board adorns one of the walls, and on the opposite wall are two large screens that look like mirrors but are actually televisions. The ceiling is full of computer codes, each one translating to either an image or an error (customers who figure out the error win a prize). Upbeat, contemporary music plays in the background.

When Symantec Food Service Director Marisha Van Der Linden moved from Connecticut to the Bay Area to open the cafe, she said there were many curveballs -- like the fact that "everyone eats quinoa" in California, she said, and the amount of detail that went into creating the space.

Located in the heart of Mountain View's tech hub -- Google is nearby, as well as software companies Veritas, MobileIron and Synopsys -- the 11-month-old Union 82 was created in an effort to help employees temporarily escape from the office. The cafe is just one of the many perks that Symantec, like many other tech companies, offers its employees, from a 12,000-square-foot gym to tennis, basketball and volleyball court.

"It's definitely a way to getting employees to come in and hang out," Van Der Linden said. "We actually see people camp out here all day. It's like their own coffee shop."

Patrons make good use of the space, which opens for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and switches to lunch at 11:30 a.m. On a typical morning, some customers drop in briefly to grab a cup of coffee on the way to work, while others hold meetings and discuss business. Symantec executives often bring prospective employees there for interviews; Van Der Linden says it's become "the most interviewed spot on campus." The cafe also offers a weekly happy hour, trivia events and "paint nite," during which patrons can enjoy wine, beer or cocktails while painting.

Megan Cleary, who has worked at Symantec for almost a year, stops by Union 82 once a week. She called it "modern" and "hip," and she enjoys the "reasonably priced" smoothies (the "Field of Greens," with bananas, mango, peaches, apples, berries, kale and spinach, is a favorite) and lattes. Union 82's coffee beans, from Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz, are roasted one week before they arrive. To maximize freshness, they are used within 30 days. The beans are hand-ground for each drink.

The menu is modeled after a "gastrolounge," according to Laden, offering pub food but with a healthy twist. Van Der Linden also cites "American tapas" as inspiration for the menu, which features everything from salads and sandwiches to flatbread pizza and ahi tuna tartar. Ingredients are locally sourced, from tomatoes, avocados and olive oil to wines and beers.

The "quinoa crunch" salad, a quinoa tabbouleh with seasonal vegetables, avocado, edamame, marinated olives and smoked pepita dressed in a chipotle-orange vinaigrette, and the classic croque monsieur sandwich are among the cafe's most popular offerings.

Tributes to Symantec abound: Cocktails are named after Symantec locations or computer terminology, such as the "cleanwipe" -- in the computer world, it's a tool to attack viruses; at Union 82, it's Broker's Gin with cucumber, lime, simple syrup and tonic. And on the menu, "bites" is spelled "bytes."

Nestled in between Relish, Symantec's more traditional cafeteria, and an IT support center, Union 82 bills itself as taking a unique spin on company dining that goes beyond just opening its doors to the public.

"The style of this place is so warm and welcoming, but at the same time it's innovative and pushing the envelope a little bit, so I think that's important as a crossroads for Symantec," Van Der Linden said.

Union 82

350 Ellis St., Mountain View

aramarkcafe.com

Hours: Monday-Friday, breakfast 7:30-11 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner and bar 3-8 p.m. "TGIF" happy hour on Fridays noon to 4 p.m.

Editorial Intern Eric He can be emailed at ehe@paweekly.com.

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