Rivalries are a tricky thing, especially in colleges. I graduated from the University of Kansas and the hatred for our bitter rival, the University of Missouri, was palpable from the day I set foot on campus. The rivalry has some interesting real world history involving the era known as Bleeding Kansas, slave state versus free state and the fact that Missourians once burned KU’s hometown of Lawrence to the ground.
So it was with a great swallowing of pride that I decided to arrange a tour of Mizzou, in Columbia, while I was going to be in the area for a family wedding last month. I decided the only way I could live with this decision was if I visited KU the next day. I had met and spoken with Julaine Kiehn, director of campus dining services at Mizzou, several times and I knew she ran a wonderful program that deserved attention. I had also met and written about Nona Golledge, director of KU Dining, and knew she had made great changes to KU since I had graduated (in 2006) that I wanted to see for myself.
My tour at Mizzou was first, and surprisingly, they didn’t instantly know when the “enemy” had entered the campus. What I found was a leafy campus with stately buildings, much like you find on many college campuses. As the day progressed I saw a very impressive operation, especially when I got to see first hand the great work the dining department has done at its new student center, which houses six restaurant-inspired concepts. I got to taste tacos from the campus-favorite Baja Fresh and listen in on plans for an addition to an all-you-care-to-eat location. Everyone couldn’t have been nicer, even once they heard I hailed from KU.
When I met Nona at KU we first sat down to lunch at the new-to-me Impromptu Café, a sit-down restaurant at the Kansas Union that serves sandwiches, soups and salads. Nona then walked me through the major changes that have taken place since I graduated, which included a gut renovation that opened this year of the dorm and all-you-care-to-eat dining hall where I lived my freshman year, a new café at the school of pharmacy complete with retro-style soda fountain and updates to other retail areas The Underground and The Studio. The big project in the works is another gut renovation of KU’s signature all-you-care-to-eat facility, Mrs. E’s. Nona showed me the plans for the location such as an improved flow and updated finishes, which should be completed next August.
What struck me about both tours was each department’s commitment to changing with their evolving customers. Both are in the midst or have just completed major projects, have a strong grasp of retail and manage themselves with notable efficiency and pizazz. So what started as a trip with heavy bias, ended with an equal admiration for each. When it comes to dining at these two institutions, we can leave the rivalry on the court.