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The Castle is a designated “resiliency space” on campus, meaning it’s quiet and peaceful, the perfect place for harried students to collect their thoughts while getting a healthy meal.

Sustainability is king at UVA’s new Castle

A fresh menu, a chilled-out atmosphere and a 3 Star Green Restaurant certification are crown jewels in a move that took the Castle from late-night burger joint to a fortress of modern mindful eating.

It’s easy to “talk the talk” about sustainability, and with a thoughtful mix of planning, design, menu development and technology, “walking the walk” is very achievable. The Castle, a new dining venue at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (UVA), is an example of a functional, successful concept all about plants, reducing waste and also creating a space meant for mindful eating and a peaceful retreat.

Plant-forward eating reigns

College students may love burgers, but through Aramark’s Voice of the Consumer program, the dining team at UVA found that students were clearly asking for healthier options, especially on the vegan and vegetarian side.

“We found that students were looking for more plant-based options and we wanted to create a sustainable café with an emphasis on mindful eating,” says Brooke Kinsey, Aramark sustainability coordinator at UVA.

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UVA Dining/Aramark found that students were seeking more plant-based options and a chilled-out space. So it was goodbye burgers, hello grain bowls, renovations and prestigious green certifications at this existing location.

While all three main dining spots on campus have added a dedicated vegan station over the past few years, the Castle was an opportunity to offer something fresh and new, a customizable healthy bowl-focused venue. Customizable grain bowls, wraps, sandwiches and combos, along with fruit-infused water have all been selling well in the relaxing atmosphere of the Castle.

Getting that green

Shortly after the Castle opened, “we pursued our fourth Certified Green Restaurant certification through the Green Restaurant Association to highlight the environmental initiatives featured in the café,” Kinsey says. Achieving this level of certification means the Castle has implemented 43 environmental steps with points assigned for areas like disposables, energy use, furnishing/building, food, chemicals, waste and water usage.

The Castle is one of 10 locations on campus that participate in back-of-house composting. Just three of those locations—including The Castle—also have a front-of-house composting program. That’s what makes the difference when it comes to making sure compostable serving ware gets to the right place, Kinsey says.

Plant-based alternatives to plastic and Styrofoam only make a difference if “they’re utilized in locations with front-of-house composting,” she adds. “This ensures those materials make it into the compost bins process by our commercial compost partner.”

The commercial partner, Black Bear Composting, worked with the dining team to compost 321 tons (about 32 garbage trucks worth) of food waste. UVA Dining donates some of the compost that comes from food and material waste to two student gardens on the grounds as a way to repurpose waste into nutrient-rich soil.

The Castle is an example of how a dining location can eliminate all single-use plastics, and all UVA dining locations are taking part in Aramark’s Sip Smarter campaign, which encourages students to always skip straws and aims to significantly reduce single-use straws by 2022.

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With customization just a touch-screen away and many options to choose from, students have really taken to using the ordering kiosks.

Here are more sustainability highlights from the Castle:

  • By not offering bottled water, “we’re not contributing to the 4 billion pounds of plastic bottles that end up in landfills each year,” Kinsey says.
  • 100% of lights at the Castle are LEDs, which use up to 90% less energy, last longer and emit fewer greenhouse gases than incandescent bulbs.
  • Strong recycling for glass, plastics, aluminum, cardboard and scraps throughout the facility can keep up to 90% of waste out of landfills.
  • High-efficiency handwashing aerators save enough water to fill 3 ½ swimming pools each year.

A sanctuary of chill

During busy times, the Castle serves about 600 customers per day, reinforcing the fact that “we were confident there was a demand for this type of concept and we’re happy to report it has thus far been a hit with students,” Kinsey says.

Students are attracted to the zen vibe of the Castle, which was created intentionally as an antidote to the stressors of college life. The dining team worked with the UVA Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC) to develop the space with elements that encourage mindful eating. That includes a chalkboard, a plant wall and a library book exchange program.

 “UVA is an academically rigorous environment and students have a lot going on each day,” Kinsey says. “We wanted to create a space to encourage students to slow down and enjoy their food in a calm environment.”

A mindful eating workshop for a small group in the mindfulness area of the building has given Kinsey an idea of how the Castle might be used in the future. Currently, it’s listed on the UVA website as a “resiliency space,” meaning a location on campus dedicated to relaxation and contemplation. So, while that mindful meditation atmosphere is encouraged, that doesn’t mean it’s not also a social space.

“On a typical day, you’ll find individual students listening to music and eating in the space as well as groups of students enjoying lunch together and taking a break from the school day,” Kinsey says. “We don’t have any rules to keep it quiet, but so far this has not been a challenge.”

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