Cafeteria promotes changes to improve dining experience


Photo by: Jeffery Miller

Norman Hunt, Sodexo Executive Chef, shows reporters the new vegan nosh bar located in Galliano Dining Hall Wednesday morning.

Locally sourced products, vegetarian, vegan and healthier options were implemented at the beginning of the fall semester as part of Nicholls State University Vernon F. Galliano Dining Hall’s new menu.

Norman Hunt, the executive chef at Galliano Dining Hall, said that the new concept of meals added to the standard food served at the cafeteria give Nicholls a competitive edge.

The dining hall now offers comfort food, including dishes that students could only get at home otherwise, and restaurant-like dishes.

“The food is freshly made all day long,” Hunt said. “We don’t pre-make anything. We don’t have any frozen products.”

All the new options are included in the regular student, faculty and staff meal plans for the price of a meal swap and is also offered to the community for less than eight dollars. The prices of meals have not increased due to the addition of meal options.

According to Russell Barrios, operations manager at the Nicholls Office of Dining Services, the innovations took into consideration market research involving faculty, staff and students.

Barrios believes that introducing grass-feed meat and local farm vegetables caters for the concerns and interests new generation of students on campus. He also added that the veggies are non-GMO and that meat served in the cafeteria is hormone and antibiotic free.

Sodexo has promoted such innovations in a district level, aiming to improve the quality of the services the company provides for universities in the area.

Through a contract with the Louisiana Beef Industry Council, Sodexo was able to secure meats and veggies that producers were previously shipping out of state.

“Now [the meat] is coming straight to us,” Hunt said. “It is as fresh as it can get.”

All the changes are part of Sodexo’s proposal that includes other universities such as Dillard, Tulane and Loyola. The Nicholls Office of Dining Services was responsible for organizing and implementing the new ideas, after accepting the proposal about a month ago.

Students now have the options to eat from a vegan bar that includes humus, grains, fresh veggies and different breads. Peak Performance, a high-protein meal station designed for active lifestyles, offers healthy meals prepared with nourishing ingredients such as olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs.

“If you are a vegetarian or a vegan you are not sitting here eating bread every day,” Hunt said. “This is going to give you a complete protein [source] along with your vegetable nutrients.”

Other options offered in the buffet include veggie burgers, pizzas and a salad bar.

The cafeteria also has stations where different dishes are made to order in front of the students. Barrios said that customizing dishes is important to accommodate client dietary restrictions and tastes.

“If somebody has a dietary allergy, we can bring out a different piece of equipment and prepare something for them on the side,” Hunt said.

In addition, Nicholls cafeteria has a pastry chef in the house that creates home made deserts and individual sized sweets every day.

Barrios also talked about Nicholls compromise with sustainability.

“All of our grease is recycled,” Barrios said. “It is picked up and used as biofuel.

Barrios said that the changes are proving to be effective, although word-of-mouth has been the only form of advertisement of the improvements.

“The number of meal plans purchased this fall has increased 40 percent in comparison to last year,” Barrios said. “And the cash sales are up 20 percent.”

According to Barrios, $90,000 was used towards renovations in the cafeteria to enhance dining experience. It included the addition of new serving stations and the purchase of dishware.

Other structural renovations are programed to happen until the summer of 2017. The cafeteria also plans on introducing a newsletter to advertise the locally produced items offered in their menu.