The idea for CrossRoads, a new plant-based cafe at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, began with a student suggestion. And while the dining team had long offered a slate of meatless options across campus, it had never tried a space solely dedicated to vegan and vegetarian fare. So, after some research and discussion with students and staff, the concept took shape, eventually opening in August. Here’s a peek inside.
A modern look
The space was previously home to a cafe called Wilbur’s, which had a nice location with “a lot of windows” but felt outdated, says Ethan Haggerty, area manager. The team undertook some low-cost upgrades: adding fresh paint, new light fixtures and plants, as well as redoing a seating area. They also installed barn board to impart a rustic sort of vibe. “The space really looks a lot different than it did a year ago,” says Haggerty, calling its new look “a major improvement.”
Seeking broad appeal
To help CrossRoads stay viable, the team knew it would need to not only appeal to vegan and vegetarian customers, but to flexitarians as well, says Rob Landolphi, associate director for culinary development and residential dining. The key to that has been “big, bold flavors” that leave diners feeling satisfied. A meatless meatball grinder and an eggplant, pesto and broccoli rabe sandwich are on offer, as is a roasted Buffalo cauliflower wrap that Landolphi and Haggerty say is likely the cafe’s best-seller.
Though yogurt smoothies have been a staple at UConn’s campus cafes, the yogurt bowls at CrossRoads are new, with toppings such as acai berries and pumpkin seeds. More than a half-dozen vegan desserts are also available, including hand pies, brownies and raspberry streusel bars. “We’re really happy with the menu because the feedback we’re getting’s all been positive,” Landophi says.
A menu ambassador
A secret weapon to CrossRoads’ success so far has been its supervisor, John Poer, Haggerty says. A vegan himself, Poer does a great job of explaining the dishes to customers and answering challenging questions about menu items. In addition, the student employees love working with him, Haggerty says.
Though the percentage of vegans and vegetarians among UConn’s population is likely in line with the national average, Landolphi says, the consumption of plant-based items on campus has grown over the last few years. He attributes that, in large part, to the willingness of meat eaters to try plant-based options, such as a vegan burger or falafel. “I think that [students] are making healthier, smarter choices,” he says.