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Iowa-State-Heaping-Plato-concept.png Photos: Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University
Iowa State’s Heaping Plato concept features an open design and both communal tables and cozier seating.

Iowa State’s Heaping Plato is Mediterranean fast-casual perfection

New concept incorporates shawarma meat, grain bowls and kiosk ordering for a daypart-crossing college dining hit that’s new in the Hub this year.

After nine long months of construction, Iowa State University (ISU) Dining’s new “baby” was actually twins: a coffee/gelato concept, The Roasterie and Heaping Plato, the Mediterranean concept in the Hub dining venue. The Hub is a location that serves one of the most diverse customer bases—students, administrators, faculty, staff and lots of prospective students in the summer.

Heaping Plato rose to the top of considerations for concepts because of the increasing number of customers “looking for fresh and healthy meal options,” vegetarian and omnivore alike, says Angie Witt, manager of Heaping Plato and The Roasterie.

The new, brighter, open-concept home to the two concepts opened in January and by now has built up daily sales to pre-renovation levels and gotten great feedback from customers. Heaping Plato’s space includes counter seating, small tables and large communal tables in light wood for a sophisticated setting.

Iowa-State-Heaping-Plato-serving.pngMediterranean ingredients make up a customizable experience with fresh flavors.

The all-day main entrée at Heaping Plato is a customizable “plato” (or bowl) of vertical spit-roasted shawarma meat or falafel with rice, mixed greens or potatoes during breakfast service. Additional items include cold sandwiches, soups and desserts.

The menu easily moves from breakfast to lunch since the same shawarma meat, fresh vegetable toppings and scratch-made sauces are used in both dayparts, with items like eggs, roasted potatoes and hash stepping in at breakfast, a component baked into the planning of the location from the start, according to Nolan Green, ISU Dining chef de cuisine.

“We had to fill the need for breakfast in this area of campus since our old venue was a breakfast destination,” Green says. “We wanted to cross-utilize our ingredients and keep with the Heaping Plato theme, so we used what was in our pantry to create yogurt-whipped eggs, our cheese frittata, grain hash and pumpkin seed pesto potatoes.”

Ordering can be done by kiosk, with screens set up to the side of the counter seating. This option is popular with repeat customers, as “new customers want to see the food options on the line to make their choices,” Witt says.

Iowa-State-Heaping-Plato-shawarma-meat.pngRoasting meat on a vertical spit adds to the authenticity of the concept.

But once a customer can visualize their sweet spot of falafel over turmeric rice with spinach, chickpeas, peppers, harissa sauce and fresh herbs, for example, the kiosk ordering system is a godsend, “especially when the line is long,” Witt says, adding, “Expediting the kiosk orders works very smoothly; we just incorporate them into our order flow as they appear and call them out when completed.”

Crunch time at Heaping Plato is the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. lunchtime, in which, prior to renovation, the line flow and traffic congestion were by far the biggest headache at the former location. “The new line setup helps immensely with controlling the flow of customers throughout the building,” Witt says. “Students are getting more comfortable using the kiosks, but with a little more marketing on our part, they should get used more frequently.”

Contact Tara at [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie.

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