Fueling collegiate athletes is no small undertaking. These students follow specific dietary requirements to achieve peak performance. Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals play a crucial role.
Until recently, most college and university foodservice operations weren’t equipped to make athlete-focused meal modifications while still providing all-you-care-to-eat access to a general student population, too.
But when Auburn (Ala.) University saw a need for more traditional cafeteria-style dining options on campus, the school simultaneously saw an opportunity to up its competitive advantage.
Four years and $6.6 million later, AU’s Wellness Kitchen is a state of the art dining facility dedicated to providing high quality food and nutritional balance in an atmosphere that is second to none. The facility seats 170 students with an additional 100 seats outside. It also boasts a dedicated boardroom.
“The Wellness Kitchen is the next step in the evolution of foodservice at Auburn,” says Glenn Loughridge, Director of Campus Dining, who graduated from Auburn in 1993 and returned to campus two years ago in his current position.
The facility is located across the street from the newly constructed South Donahue Residence Hall, which houses athletes and students. It is buffet style with multiple make-to-order action stations, a pizza oven, a hot line featuring fresh meats and vegetables, as well as carving stations for a variety of beef, pork or poultry, a huge salad bar and fresh fruit smoothies. Local, organic produce is preferred and sourced as much as possible.
“The Wellness Kitchen isn't about counting calories,” says Loughridge, “it's about making calories count.”
Created by Auburn's Sports Dietician, Scott Sehnert, and Tiger Dining's Executive Chef, Emil Topel, the menu is designed to promote maximum nutritional density per calorie consumed. Traditional recipes are reimagined to remove empty calories and avoid processed ingredients. Dishes are marked with icons on overhead monitors for athletes looking to gain or lose weight and other meals are prepared individually if a certain request is made by the athlete or athletics staff.
“The facility is specially designed to maximize options and customization,” says Loughridge. “Each student—both athlete and academic—can build a meal tailored to his or her individual nutritional needs. The kitchens are also open so students can interact with the cooks at each meal.”
A First for Chartwells
The Wellness Kitchen also contains Auburn's first Gluten/Allergen Free prep area. This allows for dishes made without gluten and other allergen free items to be fresh prepped in an environment where cross contamination can be controlled.
“We focus on premium options,” says Loughridge, who notes that this dining concept is a first for Chartwells, who provides foodservice for the school. “In one meal period, we might serve grilled salmon, ribeye steaks and shrimp paella.”
Breakfast in the Wellness Kitchen costs $8.99, while dinner runs around $17.99. “The price point is higher than our other dining halls,” says Loughridge. “But the value and the experience are also more premium.”
The space itself is more akin to a restaurant than a dining hall. Seats are wider to accommodate athletes; a newly hired front of house manager oversees daily dining room operations and interfaces with students; and a dedicated staff member walks the floor constantly to refresh tables after students are finished eating.
While it was initially built for athletes, the Wellness Kitchen is not exclusively for the sport-oriented. In fact, any student on a meal plan is welcome to dine there.
“Food is more than just sustenance,” says Loughridge. “It’s that little something extra that helps Tiger athletes—and students—perform just a little bit better.”