A new definition of gluten-free dining

prentice cafe welcome

The decision to build one of the first gluten-free dining halls started with a booth at Kent State University’s summer orientation in Kent, Ohio. Each year, the dining department sets up a table to answer questions from incoming freshmen. In increasing numbers, Kent’s dietitian was flooded with queries about food options for gluten-intolerant students.

“For a handful of students, this is life or death,” says Richard Roldan, director of dining services. “The fear in their eyes that this could harm them was a reality check for us.”

It was these conversations with a spectrum of students that pushed Roldan and his team to go beyond the gluten-free stations in the dining halls and create a guaranteed safe haven. This summer, dining services kicked off the project by renovating Kent’s Prentice Cafe, pressure washing, and sanitizing and steaming every piece of equipment. However, constructing an entirely gluten-free oasis wasn’t as simple as cleaning the space and banning bagels and other wheat byproducts—it meant installing a whole new protocol for doing business, including these three rules.

1. Keeping uniforms clean

prentice employee uniforms

Workers cannot take their uniforms home, because they might return carrying a contaminant. During shift change, employees leave their uniforms in locker rooms that were part of the facility’s original structure and change into their street clothes to preserve the space.

2. No outside food

prentice students food

At other dining halls, students often bring in outside food to dine with their friends. “Our biggest thing was to get the message out to students coming in that this was a gluten-free area, and everything coming in has to be gluten-free,” Roldan says. At the entrance to Prentice, large eye-grabbing signage explains the guidelines of the gluten-free zone. In addition, Roldan and his team tell guests to be the keepers of their space, and let other people know if they are jeopardizing their health.

3. Deliveries through the back

prentice employee pizza

 All deliveries must come through the back entrance of Prentice Cafe so no contaminants are tracked through the dining space. “We’ve had to work with vendors because some products have been mixed in,” Roldan says. The dining team takes extra time to educate vendors and make sure they understand what a gluten-free zone looks like.  

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