Bill Heslin, senior director of residential dining, hovered over the different stations at Food Hall in Sam’s Place. As he talked to staff, he fixed any stations that seemed out of place. He waltzed over to another, observing the staff’s interactions with students. Heslin took a satisfied step back and watched the students come in and out of the dining location, some in large groups and some alone.
Heslin was caught up in monitoring how students interact with the newly-renovated space. Food Hall, which was renovated before the academic school year began, wanted to bring students a more modern twist on dining, while still bringing a comforting atmosphere.
Writing spills across the walls at Food Hall, both phrases and words highlighting that the food served is both healthy and fresh. Students have various food options to choose from, such as the allergen-friendly station known as Pure Eats, the Innovation Station which creates different ethnic dishes each week and a homestyle station that serves comfort foods like a rotisserie and jerk chicken.
Other stations include Flame Sizzling Grill, 500 Degrees Pizza and Pasta, Nook Breakfast Spot, Stacked Made-to-Order Deli and the Salad Bar.
Some of the stations were also renamed to make them more identifiable to students. The vegan station was previously called “Rooted,” but was renamed so students can easily find the station that works well with their diets.
The refined eatery is managed by Chartwells Higher Education, which focuses on fresher food options and bringing farm-to-table food to students on campus.
James Standridge, the senior executive chef, has worked with Food Hall for six weeks and stresses the importance of gathering ingredients locally.
“We at Chartwells believe in knowing the story of your food and eating local,” Standridge explained. “All of the vegetables and sides come from local markets and farms within 150 miles of this campus. Local buying and sustainability is big for Chartwells.”
Along with stressing the importance of local buying, Chartwells also focused on expanding the vegan and vegetarian options at Food Hall. Almost all of the stations offer vegan and vegetarian options for students.
Carlos Mohammed, the executive chef, has worked with Sam’s Place for just over three years. Mohammed understands how more plant-based options benefit the students on campus.
“We spent a lot of time developing these menus because the vegan population is growing and we have a lot of students who are interested in vegan food,” Mohammed said. “We like to push the narrative that vegan food does not have to be bland. There’s a stigma around vegan food. We try to showcase that it tastes great and is good for you.”
Students can also give their feedback on the vegan food served when exiting Food Hall. The feedback students give goes directly to the marketing manager, Lindsey Anderson, so she can review and make any necessary changes.
Deirdre Licciardi, a junior marketing major, already has a favorite station.
“There’s a lot of different options and we get really excited when the pasta station is open,” Licciardi said. “We literally don’t eat anything else.”
The staff at Food Hall is also dedicated to ensuring that rush hours are handled efficiently. Since there has been such a large influx of students, the staff wants to help students get their meals as quickly as possible between classes.
“We’ve worked through the pandemic with very, very limited staff so a lot of our staff and management team is up for the task of taking on the new incoming freshman and the large crowds that we have coming in now,” Mohammed said. “A lot of the staff has been here quite a long time, so they’re used to the push. We’ve all learned through this pandemic one thing: to do more with less and [to] do our best to try and make sure that we keep options open and that students are happy.”
The staff at Food Hall will be hosting “Joyful,” on Sept. 24, from noon to 4 p.m. “Joyful” aims to create moments of joy through food. Students can expect to see festival food, a live DJ, a photo booth and prizes. Students can even bring a canned food item for the food pantry on campus and win a prize for doing so.