Vegan Vacation

All-vegan cafeteria makes its debut at University of North Texas.

By Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Maple Dining Hall at UNT was renovated to become an
all-vegan cafeteria.

DENTON, Texas—Faced with constant requests for more vegetarian fare, the dining department at 36,000-student University of North Texas opened an all-vegan dining hall this fall. Ken Botts, special projects manager, says the department has made several previous attempts to satisfy the growing demand for vegetarian fare.

“Throughout the year vegetarians are calling us up or emailing saying, ‘there is nothing for me to eat in the dining halls,’” Botts says. “Obviously that’s not true, but that’s the perception. Our first attempt at identifying the vegetarian options on campus came about a year ago when we put these green arrows over all of the vegan entrées, but we still kept getting requests. So our next attempt was to add an all-vegan hot line at one of our cafeterias, which we did last year. It was very popular, even with people who weren’t vegan. We thought maybe there was something to this because the requests were still coming, so maybe we could take it to the next level. Bill McNeace, our executive director, said, ‘why don’t we do a vegan cafeteria?’”

Because the vegan dining hall is one of five campus dining centers, Botts says the department has been able to create more variety.

“We probably have three more dining halls than most campuses have,” Botts says. “Rather than having five general-purpose cafeterias we decided to take two of them, Maple and West, and special purpose them with vegan fare [Maple] and Southern comfort foods [West]. For Maple we did a complete renovation. My graphics team took inspiration from vegetarian restaurants and East Indian restaurants. We were just trying to come up with something that would be exciting and fun. My team digitally created some custom artwork for the location. Then we took that artwork and reproduced it on wallpaper. It looks really cool.”

Looking for inspiration: Botts says when the team was first thinking about the design and the menu for the dining hall they traveled to the Dallas/Fort Worth area to visit some local vegetarian restaurants, but found that vegetarian restaurants were few and far between in beef-centric Texas.

“We wanted to go [to these restaurants to get inspiration for] the menu and the look, but there are not a whole lot to choose from,” Botts says. “There were only three that we were able to identify. One of them is this crazy place that kind of took a step back to the ’60s with a funky menu and look. Then there was one that had an Indian influence. We combined those two.”

The décor of the dining hall features a large Buddha statue that has bamboo coming up behind it, some “funky glass chandeliers” and elements of fresh foods, Botts says.

“One of the items that is pretty cool is one of our graphic artists took zucchinis, bananas and strawberries and made them into a person meditating,” Botts says. “We took the lighting elements and we changed out the coverings around the lights to strawberries and
avocados. Everywhere you look [the décor] says ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetables.’”

The dining hall stations include a pizza station, a sushi station, panini bar with custom vegetarian ingredients and two types of entrées.

“We used to double up on the entrées because the cafeteria had two sides,” Botts says. “So [in the new cafeteria] one side is going to feature entrées that focus on bean and rice combinations and one side’s entrées will focus on grains and legumes. One important decision we made is we are not offering any veggie burgers, seiten proteins, fake chicken, fake ham, etc. All the dishes are made from scratch and are quality homestyle meals.”

No eggs, no milk: Botts says the culinary team was challenged by the development of the menu for the cafeteria.

“All summer long our chef, who is classically trained, was like, ‘my training tells me you need eggs and milk in everything.’ Then as she progressed she was like, ‘wow, you can make cookies without eggs and milk.” It was great to see her question her classical training. She started having fun trying to mimic traditional foods like a shepherd’s pie and macaroni and cheese with no cheese. We also were very concerned with the nutritional values of everything because we knew vegans and vegetarians are concerned about how they get their protein, vitamins, calcium, etc. There is more balance in the vegan offerings we have than there is in the traditional burger and french fries. A lot of effort went into making sure the dishes would support the healthy dining concept.”