Campus Dining, students discuss changes to food options on campus
Natalie Weber | Wednesday, October 2, 2019
In addition to the opening of Pizza Pi, Campus Dining rolled out several changes this semester, including the opening of Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh and the closure of express location, a la Descartes, in Jordan Hall. The organization is also continuing to evaluate its dining options and plans to announce changes to the meal plans during the fall semester.
“We’re always looking at new work, especially with technology now — it’s changing a lot faster,” director of student dining Luigi Alberganti said. “So we’re always looking, we actually go to conferences and whatnot, and see what the newest trend is.”
Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh opens
Chris Abayasinghe, senior director of Campus Dining, said the decision to bring Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh to the Hesburgh Center for International Studies was part of the University’s ongoing evaluation of its restaurants.
“With the new Jenkins-Nanovic building there, we wanted to create a dining experience that was also reflective of the global aspirations that the new Keough School, etc., aspire to, because they have visiting scholars, folks like that [who] come in,” he said.
Abayasinghe said while Au Bon Pain Express used to be located in the Hesburgh Center in place of Garbanzo, it was more of “a catering operation.”
“One of the charges we set for ourselves was to really help enliven the dine-in experience. And that’s what we’ve seen with Garbanzo,” he said.
Abayasinghe said Campus Dining does not yet know the full financial cost of replacing ABP Express with Garbanzo. When asked if he had an estimate, Abaysinghe responded that the University would know the full amount by the end of the fiscal year.
The restaurant has gotten business from a number of students, Luigi Alberganti, director of student dining said. As Campus Dining anticipated, Garbanzo’s customers primarily consist of faculty and visitors, but the students were a nice surprise, he said.
Julia Glago, a sophomore, was one such student who visited Garbanzo on Friday. She said many of her friends had recommended the restaurant but warned her about long lines.
“I really liked it,” she said. “It’s a lot different than what a lot of other on-campus food restaurants have to offer.”
Senior Caizi Qi, who also went to Garbanzo on Friday with her friend Yi Fan, said she appreciated the options the restaurant offers.
“This is a more healthy option instead of the fast food,” she said.
À la Descartes closes
Alongside the opening of Garbanzo, campus also saw the closing of a la Descartes, an express location offering to-go food and coffee in Jordan Hall.
The location was difficult to maintain because it did not have special facilities, such as a hand-washing station, and items had to be brought in, Alberganti said. When the Duncan Student Center opened, its new restaurants also took away business from a la Descartes, he added.
“We thought it was going to be a minimal impact,” Alberganti said. “But after a year of seeing the volume that we had over there, it just became financially unsustainable to maintain.”
Alberganti said having the Duncan Student Center near Jordan Hall offers students more options.
“The decision of closing a la Descartes was based on we’d rather give the opportunity of expansion and an experience like Duncan Student Center, where you not only can have coffee but it’s complemented by the homemade gelato program, pastries and smoothies and whatnot,” he said.
Director of Campus Dining Chris Abayasinghe added that locations such as Au Bon Pain in the library, Decio Cafe and the Duncan Student Center could offer alternatives to a la Descartes. He also said the University is continuing to evaluate its dining options and is piloting a personalized coffee machine in the School of Architecture’s building.
However, not all students found these alternatives helpful.
Senior and biology major Colleen Ballantyne said she frequented a la Descartes for coffee and enjoyed talking to friends who worked there. When she noticed the express location had closed, she emailed Campus Dining to see if the closure was permanent.
“The closest place would be ABP, but that’s a 10-minute round trip plus the actual buying the coffee,” she said. “It’s not really feasible. I’ve just gotten so used to being right there.”
Senior and science-business major Evan Slattery, who was working in the study area near the now-closed cafe Tuesday, said a la Descartes was a convenient place to pick up a coffee or snack between classes.
“I actually liked this [location] more than Duncan because it’s just a little store that you can grab whatever you want,” he said. “Over there, it’s just a few restaurants. It’s always long lines. This is way more convenient. If I wanted a coffee, I would never go to Duncan. I would go right here.”
Not all students had strong feelings about the closure, however.
“I used to come here often but … I’m not really mad about it,” sophomore and biochemistry major Vita Zhang said.
This fall, Campus Dining plans to announce updates to the meal plan system. Abayasinghe declined to comment on how the meal plans would be adjusted, saying he was not ready to discuss the changes yet.
“Last semester, students received an update from Student Affairs specifically in and around that but also announcing that we were going to go through the process in the fall to speak with students and what have you,” he said. “Yes, we do intend to do that.”
When announcing incentives to keep seniors on-campus, the University said last spring it intends to introduce “block meal plan options.” These plans would offer a certain number of swipes per semester instead of swipes that expire weekly. The email also referenced “even more flexible meal plan options” for seniors.
Last fall, then student government co-director of student life Eduardo Luna said Campus Dining had been considering changes including a meal-block plan, a flex points based system, decreasing meal swipes, offering unlimited meal swipes and getting rid of late lunch.
When asked about possible modifications to the LaFortune Student Center, Campus Dining administrators said they had not confirmed any changes yet.
“We’ve looked at many concepts and we engaged with several student groups, professors and whatnot, to see what possibilities we have there,” Alberganti said. “But we haven’t monetized anything.”