How Virginia Tech turned Owens Food Court into a global dining destination
Last summer, Owens Food Court at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., got an overdue face-lift.
“It needed a refresh,” says Lauren Snelson, assistant director for the food court. “Owens hadn’t had any large-scale remodel since 1991. You would go back to the ’90s every time you walked into the building.”
Owens’ modern atmosphere and the addition of several new concepts have boosted sales 23% over last year. Here is an inside look.
Taking a field trip
While planning the revamped space, Associate Director of Dining Services Brian Grove and his team traveled to Washington, D.C., for two and a half days to get inspiration from the city’s restaurants. The team made an effort to visit spots offering global cuisine because they wanted Owens to have a variety of ethnic options.
“We knew we had an influx of international students coming in, and we also knew that we were kind of underserving that population,” Grove says.
The team targeted globally inspired fast casuals popular with Virginia Tech students, such as Cava, and paid attention to each concept’s menu and atmosphere.
Inspired by their trip, the dining team designed several concepts centered around global cuisine. Variabowl, for example, offers an array of ethnic bowls. Its offerings change each Tuesday and focus on one of four international cuisines: Mediterranean, Thai, Korean and Indian.
Owens also has separate bowl concepts for Mexican, Italian and Asian cuisine. Each concept is named after the word bowl in its cuisine’s associated language—the Asian concept, for example, is called Wǎn, which is “bowl” in Mandarin.
Focusing on local, too
Another flagship concept is Farm Stand, which features ingredients sourced from local farmers, including the school’s own campus farm. Students looking for American fare can visit Frank’s, Owens’ sandwich concept; Dish, which serves comfort food; or Pops, which focuses on grill classics such as burgers and hot dogs. There is also a soup, salad and yogurt bar serving lighter options.
They’ll also find Virginia Tech Dining’s grab-and-go line, called Grab & Gobble, which includes plant-based and gluten-free options for students on the run.