Providence College in Providence, R.I., was busy renovating and expanding Raymond Dining Hall during the pandemic. The result? A brand-new food hall with 10 stations instead of six, all surrounding an open kitchen.
“The redesign improved the flow and efficiency and added more serving areas. Now students can spread out much more,” says John LaBreche, general manager of the dining hall.
Students, trustees and staff all gave input about what concepts and food to include in the new facility—and UCOOK, a hands-on station where students do the cooking—was at the top of the list.
“A smaller version of UCOOK launched in 2018 and became very popular,” says LaBreche. “We knew we needed a larger space.”
The upgraded UCOOK platform includes six built-in induction burners instead of two portable units, rice cookers, drop refrigerators, a washing sink and a hand sink, plus more room for students to move around and cook.
Students can help themselves to a selection of staples, such as vegetables, cooked proteins, brown and white rice, pasta, eggs and a variety of sauces. They can then cook everything from omelets for breakfast to fried rice and pasta primavera for lunch and dinner. Attendants are on hand to replenish ingredients; restock utensils, such as spatulas and whisks; and wash saute pans.
“We also invite students to ‘shop the dining hall,’ picking up ingredients from the salad bar, deli counter and other stations,” says Marketing Manager Jennifer Wells.
To learn additional techniques and recipes, students can sign up for chef-led events, which include guided cooking demos. “This has turned into a very popular platform,” says Wells.
Another expanded station is Global Kitchen, a concept with dishes that reflect the cuisines of other countries. Students can customize dishes such as Korean tacos, poke bowls and ravioli with different vegetables and sauces. The station transitions from a made-to-order omelet platform in the morning to the Global Kitchen for lunch and dinner.
Also joining the lineup is Rustic Roots, a plant-based platform. It’s targeted to students who want to eat meatless some or all of the time, with protein alternatives such as seitan and tofu available. The collection of more than 200 plant-based chef-created entrees was endorsed by the Humane Society of the U.S. and taste-approved by college students.
While the plant-based station fills a niche, it’s taking a while to build traffic, LaBreche says. On the other hand, a wings station, also added during the renovation, is always one of the busiest. On offer are boneless and bone-in wings with a variety of dipping sauces.
Diners who crave meat and potatoes can head over to the comfort food station, which focuses on traditional family dinners with a starch, vegetable and animal protein. And there’s a grill platform specializing in quesadillas, burgers, grilled cheese and similar favorites.
Raymond Dining Hall is managed by Providence College’s foodservice partner Sodexo and features the contract company’s signature Simple Servings station as well. Here, students with allergies and food sensitivities can order meals free of the most common allergens: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts. There’s also a cook-to-order saute area with separate cooking equipment and a pantry filled with ingredients and products free of gluten, tree nuts or peanuts.
The renovated food hall opened on Aug. 16, timed to the start of fall semester. It operates from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.