Going vegan is now considerably easier at Wake Forest University as the school and dining services provider Aramark opened a completely vegan station on March 13 in the Fresh Food Co. all-you-care-to-eat residential dining hall more commonly known on campus as “The Pit.”
The station, one of 11 in the venue, sees several hundred diners on a typical day. The facility as a whole, the main residential dining location on the campus, sees three to four thousand a day.
“It’s going pretty well; we’ve got a lot of good feedback, and not just from vegan students,” offers Sarah Barkley, marketing manager for Aramark at Wake Forest. “A lot of the vegetarian population is really enjoying it and our students who don’t have any dietary restrictions—they’ve all really enjoyed it.”
“The non-vegan students love it,” adds Aramark Resident District Manager Tim Vandermeersch. “They think it’s another extension in addition to the salad bar. They love the freshness and different flavors that we’re giving them daily.”
The location was originally a dessert station that was initially converted to a Chobani-branded yogurt station.
“That was then moved to the salad bar so we could turn this entire space into a meal replacement, so it wasn’t just a couple of vegan choices but a complete vegan meal option,” says Robin Day, general manager.
The typical range of choices includes an entrée and two vegetable sides, a sandwich/wrap and two composed salads and a dessert. The choices alter from lunch to dinner to provide variety between the dayparts.
The menu is on a two-week cycle, but the choices are in flux as more is learned about preferences.
“We’re monitoring it currently to change up some of the options that are less popular,” explains Executive Chef Jordan Rogers. “Over the last three or four weeks we’ve been seeing what’s been popular and what we can cycle out and replace with some new items to keep it fresh.”
He says as a result of observations, some of the pasta dishes have been switched out and dishes incorporating complex grains added, which also helps meet the protein needs of vegan diners.
“And [the menu] will be seasonal,” adds Vandermeersch. “The local, sustainable products on campus are really important to students, so we’ll use as much seasonal and local products as possible.”
In the early going, wraps and cold leafy green salads have been popular, as well as grain salads like quinoa and bulgur.
“The vegan brownies and snickerdoodles have been a big hit as well,” Day adds.
The station has its own dedicated staff as well as its own equipment and utensils to minimize cross-contamination risk.
The station is only open for lunch and dinner. At breakfast, students are provided with a map of vegan options from the various stations that are open in the morning.
“It’s much more used than we anticipated,” Day says. “We were trying to fit the needs of a ‘niche’ group of students and it just ended up getting used by a lot more students [so far] than we thought and the feedback has really been positive.”
“And whether they eat there or not, I do see a lot of students go to check out the options there,” Rogers adds.
The dining hall opens at 7 a.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. weekends, and is open until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.