Featuring an open layout and fresh sustainability initiatives, Minnesota State University at Mankato’s new University Dining Center is an eco-friendly all-you-care-to-eat space that gives food transparency to students every step of the way. Here’s an inside look.
When planning the space, which opened in January, school officials aimed for an open design that allows students to watch meals being prepped from beginning to end.
With that in mind, the only elements that remain back of house are dry storage, cold storage and meat prep, says Cindy Janney, director of residential life. Each of the eatery’s serving stations contains some element of transparency, from a full rotisserie to a window where students can watch pastries being made.
Founded in sustainability
The University Dining Center is the first eatery on campus to begin a composting initiative. Through pulping, Janney says the center as a whole has gone from using 26 trash bags daily to only two.
Other sustainability initiatives include using all LED lightbulbs, installing variable speed fans in kitchen hoods and daylight harvesting, a method by which the facility relies on natural light as much as possible to reduce the amount of artificial light it needs. The center’s floor-to-ceiling windows are also equipped with sun shields that provide heat retention in the winter and heat reduction in the summer.
Combi ovens were installed at two serving stations to give chefs flexibility in deciding which dishes to create. “We can go from baking chicken breast to cold-smoking cheese to dehydrating pineapple for a nice garnish,” says Operations Manager Jamie Waterbury. “Whatever we can think of creating, this oven is capable of producing high-quality results.”
At the vegan and vegetarian station, staff can quickly switch between portable induction woks, induction burners, panini grills and a flat-top grill to serve a variety of dishes such as vegan friendly stir-fries and vegetarian muffulettas.
A touch of tech
While the university didn’t want overdo the number of screens in the dining center, Janney says televisions were incorporated into some booths for students to enjoy a show of their choice as they eat. “We didn’t want it to look like a sports bar where you walk in and are inundated with TVs,” Janney says.
Student satisfaction top of mind
Future customers were able to share opinions on the new University Dining Center via periodic workshops held throughout construction, during which students could give input and ask the design team questions, Janney says.
Now that the space is open, “You can just tell by looking at students that they’re happy to be there,” she says, noting that by 2 p.m. the new facility normally surpasses the number of students served in a full day at the old one.