A new concept for cafeterias on college campuses is popping up all over the country. It’s even right in the middle of UNC Charlotte’s campus at the Crown Commons dining facility in the Student Union.
Long gone are the days of “mystery meat” and scrambled egg substitutes served with an ice cream scoop. No more tray-line service and limited choices at mealtime. Enter Crown Commons, the all-you-care-to-eat, made-to-order, innovative dining hall.
You immediately notice something modern and fresh about it. The idea behind the delicious dishes and contemporary design comes from a concept called “pulse on dining.” Featured by Chartwells, the food service provider, pulse on dining is kind of a pod effect where each unit, or food station, can become something different on a daily basis.
“Our grill could become a grill today for burgers, but tomorrow it could become a Mongolian wok,” describes Roger Lademann, Campus Executive Chef, who oversees all the campus eateries include Crown Commons.
As deli counters morph into ice cream sundae bars, the pulse on dining phenomenon also involves feeling the “pulse” of the community, specifically the college community. Lademann frequently relies on feedback from students. He’s implemented a “Kitchen Kred” program, where chefs team up with students to transform different food stations into whatever they want. This helps eliminate boredom in an environment that has (in the past) sometimes seemed like it offered limited options.
Restaurant-style variety The pulse on dining concept also plays a role in the layout of Crown Commons. Booths and tables are out of view from where the food is prepared and served. The overall feeling is more of a restaurant-style eatery than a cafeteria. Diners also have the choice of enjoying their meal in either the dining room, on one of the patios or in a private conference room while watching television.
Variety is key at Crown Commons. Dining options include oven-baked pizza, deli sandwiches, burgers and grill items, home-cooking (comfort food), soups, salads, waffle and cereal bars and international selections. Every day the international station offers a taste from a different nation. Whether it’s corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day or an Asian feast for the “Wok and Roll” Chinese New Year celebration, the unique choices from around the world are sure to delight diners while introducing them to something new.
On Fridays, breakfast is served a little later than usual since there are fewer classes on campus. So students can sleep in and still get the chance to enjoy omelets and pancakes made to their specifications at lunch time when they wake up. Quesadilla and baked potato bars are examples of tasty ideas that have been featured at the food stations.
Selections are also available for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners. While only a handful of students on campus are gluten intolerant, Lademann recognizes their needs and makes sure Crown Commons provides for their dietary restrictions. Breads, pastas and pizzas are available and made-to-order for the gluten-free community.
“It’s not a fad, it’s really becoming a way of life for people and we understand that,” says Lademann.
Fresh from the Carolinas While diversity is an essential factor of the food served at Crown Commons, healthy choices are just as important. There are no fillers in the meats. No products used are completely frozen or full of preservatives. And the emphasis remains on fresh.
Local produce is featured year round. Lademann gathers fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers markets every third Thursday of the month beginning in March. Apples from Andersonville, S.C., Patterson Farm strawberries from N.C. and cabbage and sweet potatoes are harvested from farms in a 250-mile radius of the UCity area. Signs are posted informing students when they are eating local produce and where it came from. Items are also labeled when they are low sodium, low or non-fat or are specialty items, such as soy milk, so that diners are aware of their options or in case they are specifically looking for something with a dietary restriction.
Portion sizes are also smaller at Crown Commons. For instance, sandwiches are served in halves instead of whole to promote healthy eating choices and acceptable portion sizes. Students can participate in cooking classes to get hands-on experience on what is in the dishes they are eating and how to prepare them. Teaching and showing the students (and diners) how to make healthy, suitable choices is an important lesson to learn along with the education they are gaining in the classroom.
By focusing on fresh food and healthy options, Crown Commons is helping teach and serve fit and balanced choices to today’s generation.
If you go Crown Commons in the Student Union at UNCC is open to the public and serves "buffet style,” all-you-can-eat for once price under ten dollars. Prices (not including tax) are as follows: Breakfast $5.90, lunch $7.50, dinner $9.20 and brunch (Saturday and Sunday usually) $7.40. Hours of operation are: Monday - Friday, 7 a.m.- 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m.- 8:30 p.m. Parking is available in the Union Deck for $6 (Monday-Friday) and is free on Saturdays and Sundays. UNCC is at 9201 University City Blvd. 704-687-7100. Crown Commons.
On a savory note Kristy Schertzer, Executive Chef for Crown Commons and Bistro 49 at UNCC, recently placed third in a southern regional collegiate culinary competition sponsored by the National Association of College and University Food Services. In 2009, Campus Executive Chef Roger Lademann placed first in the same competition.