For students looking for a reason to get up for that 9 a.m. class, a spread of bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon is a great place to start.

Not to be outdone by the campus renovations and construction, the Heilman Dining Center has added plenty of new moods and foods this year, from more booths and seating areas to strawberry cream cheese and Nutella. The changes are part of several new approaches, which include more vegan options, a bulked-up breakfast, more local products and some savory southern barbecue.

“One of the items that we’re doing is the southern station. It’s a station where we’re serving brisket…beans, cornbread. The flavors are amazing,” said Jerry Clemmer, director of residential dining. The station, located in the same area as the Indian and wing bar, has already become a popular destination according to Clemmer, as has the new texmex station. “There’s a texmex station where we used to do a quesadilla or a burrito. Now we’re combining them and calling it texmex,” Clemmer said.

Clemmer was particularly eager to discuss the dining hall's new breakfast options, starting with a new bagel spread. “The bagel bar has smoked salmon, lox, capers and onions. It’s a very, very good smoked salmon. It’s been a huge hit.” He said the school had also added two items that students had been wanting for a long time: strawberry cream cheese and Nutella. 

Clemmer credited the dining hall’s “Text-n-Tell” program as being the key medium for hearing the student feedback that allows the school to best tailor its menu. The program allows students to text in their suggestions and feedback to the dining center, keeping the staff updated to whatever trends the students are into.

The dining hall layout has also received a minor makeover. The university brought in some new tables and chairs to replace some of the older ones. “I’ve been here for 30 years, and we had to replace some of these tables that had probably been here for 30 years too,” said Bettie Clarke, executive director of campus dining. 

The furniture update has coincided with the construction of new seating booths in the front dining room, meant to mirror the ones found in the back room. She noted how many students she sees doing work in the dining hall, and said it was accordingly important to make the dining hall a quality work environment as well. “We added things to make it more comfortable, to make it look more contemporary, to make it more student-friendly. It offers places for social groups to meet. That’s what it’s designed for – it’s designed to bring the community together.” Both Clarke and Clemmer said the booths would be completed within the next few days.

A sound system is also in the works for the dining hall, a project Jerry Clemmer said would be finished some time during the academic year. “What it’s going to do is enhance the sound quality of the dining rooms. One of the challenges we have for something like Midnight Munchies is when the DJ only has a sound system right there in the middle room. And so everyone in the extremities of the dining room ends up not hearing it,” he said. He also pointed to a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech that President Ayers gave in the dining hall, during which no one could hear him, Clemmer said. The dining hall, which will still be able to sit around 1,000 people, will not have that problem again.

“Another big push this year was buy more local,’’ Clemmer added. “We told our vendors and produce stores that any time there’s something local, like apples or sweet potatoes, get the local. Even though it’s a little more pricey, get the local.”

In fact, Clemmer has taken the whole “local” movement one step further. “We have an herb garden in the back, and we try to use the herbs as much as we can,” he said. “And this last year, we planted an orchard, with apples and figs and all kinds of things, right behind the dining hall. They haven’t come out yet – it takes a year or two for them to grow. But they’ll be able to use that in the dining hall.” 

Also growing nearby are blueberries and blackberries, which will eventually be ready for dining hall cultivation as well. Clemmer credits dining hall chef Tyler Betzhold with the idea to grow sustainable food in the dining hall's own backyard.

“You can’t get any more local than that,” Clemmer said.

Contact reporter Jacob Steinfield at jacob.steinfield@richmond.edu

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