Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., held a bittersweet farewell party for “The Rot” right before final exams this semester.
After 31 years in the Reber-Thomas building, the beloved dining hall is moving across campus to much larger digs, leaving behind lots of memories. Many current students have parents who attended the college and dined there, and some of the foodservice team has been with The Rot since opening day.
The Rot was so named because at the time it opened, Marriott managed the dining operations at Liberty. Since then, the college has grown, with student enrollment projected to top 20,000 in five years, said Duke Davis, district manager for current foodservice provider Sodexo.
“The university has seen massive growth over the last few years, and the current 65,000-square-foot dining hall just couldn’t handle it,” Davis added. “We did a mild renovation in 2014 that was supposed to last five years, but then COVID got in the way and delayed construction of a new building.”
Dining services always does a themed event at the end of the Spring semester as “a last hurrah,” he said, so this year the team turned it into a closeout celebration called “Rotapalooza.” Students were treated to face painting, balloon art and caricatures from a local artist, plus live music from a cover band. Themed t-shirts available for purchase quickly sold out.
Campus executive chefs created a food truck park inside The Rot featuring a menu with customizable stations. There was a hot dog bar, sweet potato fry bar and fried rice bar, as well as street tacos, with make-your-own cinnamon rolls and cupcake sundaes for dessert.
In August, the new dining hall will open in a two-story structure overlooking a pond and nestled among three residential buildings—much closer to student housing, said Davis. “It will be 130,000 square feet with 23 dining platforms, many with action stations showcasing a variety of global cuisines.”
The building boasts more fire power, meaning that sizzling fajitas will come off the Mexican station, fresh pasta from the Italian station and authentic stir-fries at the Asian concept. There’s also a large-production bake shop with its own gluten-free baking area and an exhibition kitchen for hosting student cooking classes. A separate enclosed space has been designated an Allergen-Free Safe Zone, where only students with severe allergies can gain access through a dietitian.
An enhancement to the dessert lineup is the addition of two on-demand Soft Serve Flavor Burst machines dispensing eight ice-cream flavors: chocolate swirl, strawberry swirl, blueberry, cotton candy, pina colada, tropical orange, cheesecake and mocha cappuccino. And there’s a machine that serves freshly squeezed citrus juices to order.
Along with indoor seating for 2,700, there will be two outdoor balconies and a patio equipped with fire pits.
“We know students will love socializing around the fire pits and we anticipate the new dining hall to transform into a hangout destination,” said Marketing Manager Shelby Burton. “Community building happens during dining, so we are excited to offer newly designed areas to foster community.”