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Now & Then: Food

Marissa Frobes | Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Upon graduation, many of an alumnus’ most vivid memories will inevitably include food. Whether the memory consists of hours spent with friends at the dining hall, hoarding snacks and caffeine for studying or regrettable late night pizza after a bar night, food was there.

Obviously this is no modern day revelation — food has always been an integral part of college life. But when Notre Dame was all-male, only spewing out strapping young lads into the business world, dining on campus was a completely different experience.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Domers had scarce options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals were served in refectories in the basement of what is today Main Building. According to Thomas J. Shclereth’s portrait of Notre Dame’s history (available in the library) this location was also the site of “trunk storage” and “lavatory facilities.” How glamorous!

Students also had the option of dining in a small cafeteria in Badin Hall, but as enrollment increased after World War I, University officials recognized the need for more adequate dining facilities.

Plans for a central dining hall began in 1922. The University awarded Ralph Adams Cram, an established Boston architect, an honorary degree in 1924, and on his visit to campus he expressed interest in designing buildings for Notre Dame in his Gothic style. Although the University rejected earlier offers from Frank Lloyd Wright, they hired Cram to design the dining hall, which was completed in 1928.

From the completion of the hall until World War II, men at Notre Dame were served meals in a “family-style,” which can be roughly translated as “military-style.” Donning suits and ties, the men filed into the facility when they heard a bell and took their places at tables set with silver and china. No speaking or sitting was allowed until an official gave grace, after which another bell sounded. The men sat, were served soup and dinner by waiters, and then were kicked out of the dining hall within 25 minutes.

Quite a different picture from meals in the dining hall today — I take for granted I am allowed to choose when to eat in four-hour time periods (or make my meal last four hours). I can eat anything I want and can dress as sloppily as I please. This military-style-meal was quickly phased out, and the dining experience became comprised of cafeteria lines as it is today.

Options for food increased from that point on (and are still expanding). North Dining Hall was constructed in 1957, giving South Dining Hall its name in accord with their positions on campus.

Off-campus options have become traditional aspects of Notre Dame dining, too. Rocco Ameduri opened South Bend’s first pizza restaurant, “Rocco’s,” in 1951, and it still serves today.

Eddy Street commons has graced Notre Dame with a casual dining trifecta in walking distance from dorms: Chipotle, Hot Box Pizza and Five Guys.

So if you ever have the dining hall blues, don’t want to trek to Eddy Street through the snow or miss your mom’s cooking, be thankful for your meal plan (No. 9 in the nation according to the Princeton Review!). Wake up and get your personalized omelet, because if you had been a Domer a few generations earlier, you would have been served “stewed prunes, oatmeal, rolls, coffee, tea or milk” for breakfast.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Marissa Frobes at [email protected]