Start with an understanding of campus culture, stir in a strong sense of community, blend in a brand new dining facility and dining program, season with an educational component, and simmer for a sensory delight that will satisfy the hardiest appetite.
Muhlenberg College (Pa.) began the request for proposal process for a new dining contract and embarked on a $20 million major renovation to its student union, including a new campus restaurant, at the same time. We realized two fully functional, independent kosher kitchens had to be in the plan. I was vaguely familiar with Jewish culture, but little did I realize how engulfed I would become in Kashrut (kosher) Laws. The key to success for us hinged on designing a program and facility that would integrate the kosher food platform, called The Noshery, into the Food Gallery.
We did not want to segregate some of our student body simply to meet their religious needs. Students seeking kosher meals should be able to break bread with their friends. We also wanted to ensure these platforms could meet the needs of the rest of our community, and create an educational component. The Campus Restaurant features the Food Gallery, a state-of-the-art culinary facility designed to meet the growing and evolving needs of today's students. The Wildfire Grille, for example, features two separate grills, griddles, and fryers along with color-coded utensils, and extensive training to separate meat from vegetable preparation. Kosher just seemed to be a natural fit and the opportunity to build a new dining facility was perfect timing.
The production kitchen has been reduced by nearly a third from its original size since much of the food is now prepared right in front of the customer and is transparent to our Food Gallery customers. This adds an element of entertainment, provides fast service, and aids in reducing food and labor costs.
All Food Gallery platforms are vegan-, vegetarian-, and gluten-friendly, and The Noshery is no different. More and more students are clamoring for these options. For now, these platforms may give us a competitive advantage. But Sodexo, the vendor who retained our dining services contract, has a strong sense that this integrated Kosher option, along with the vegan/vegetarian focus, will be the model for the future.
Our full-service kosher program has meat and dairy options available at the same time. There are two separate kosher kitchens, independent of the production kitchen, integrated into each platform. The floor plan offers complete transparency. The Noshery is under Rabbinical supervision, Star K Certified with two full-time Mashgichim (who supervise the kashrut status).
From an admissions perspective, it was important that we respond more deeply to the observances of Jewish students who make up one-third of our student body, plus maintain a strong sense of community, a characteristic recognized by nearly everyone who walks down Muhlenberg's academic row.
A new, exciting food venue should help the college get prospective students' attention, yet it is the sense of community at Muhlenberg that consistently wins the day. It's the feeling the student gets when he or she visits that shows this is a place where they can have a great four-year experience. We needed our campus dining experience to enhance that feeling.
The kosher kitchens will develop products for the retail operations for our campus. They will support the Shabbat Dinners and other events at the Hillel House, the home of the campus' Jewish student organization, and its expansion and renovation, scheduled for completion in January 2011.
The dining program has also piqued the interest of the local community. While our focus is on student service, we'll be developing a retail grab-n-go program and a kosher catering component in the spring of 2011.
The Muhlenberg community has been very supportive, helping me understand the Jewish culture. Hillel students and staff have welcomed me as we work together to develop this program. A new kosher committee consists of students, faculty, staff, a Rabbi, and members of the culinary team. While this program will continue to develop and offer the campus a great opportunity to engage in cultural and culinary exploration, it will also enhance the strong sense of community so prevalent at Muhlenberg College.
Glenn Gerchman is director of Seegers Union at Muhlenberg College (Pa.).