On-campus dining altered by restaurant closures, openings and meal swipes


Dining Chick-fil-a.jpg

Haley Blackburn

As students arrive back on UK’s campus, social distancing procedures are not the only change they will encounter – UK’s dining scene has changed as well.

Four campus restaurants closed and have been replaced by other restaurants. Additionally, the university is bringing back the ability for students to use meal swipes at some campus restaurants.

Students will no longer have the option to eat at La Madeleine, Taco Bell, Aqua Sushi, and Steak ‘N Shake, the four restaurants that have been closed.

La Madeleine, which was previously housed in the 90, will be replaced with a second on-campus Chick-Fil-A location. The space in the 90 previously used for Taco Bell will now be used to expand the Wildcat pantry next door.

Aqua Sushi, located in the same space as Papa John’s, will be replaced by a similar restaurant named Zen Sushi.

Steak ‘N Shake, located in the ground level of Holmes Hall, will now be House of Cue, a barbecue restaurant.

With the removal of Taco Bell and Steak ‘N’ Shake, two of the campus’s most affordable dining options, some students worry that food insecurity will become an even bigger problem.

“There were many times during my freshman year that the cheaper dining options were most convenient and my only way to afford food when the dining halls were closed,” said Seth Shockley, a junior political science major.“The absence of these options may force students to find food off campus or simply go without.”

One way the university is trying to combat food insecurity is with the allowance of meal swipes to be used at on-campus restaurants aside from the dining halls.

In recent years, students could only use meal swipes at the dining hall and had to use Flex money to buy food at campus restaurants.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton confirmed that meal swipes would be taken at the following locations this semester:

  • Wildcat Pantry in Holmes Hall
  • Panda Express
  • Subway in Gatton Student Center
  • Auntie Anne’s
  • Champions Kitchen
  • Intermezzo
  • Subway in M.I. King library
  • Wildcat Pantry in Jacobs Science Building
  • Wildcat Pantry in the 90
  • Fresh Food Company
  • Papa Johns in the 90

Meal swipes will also be taken at four on-campus food trucks whose name and location are yet to be announced.

Student body president Courtney Wheeler said while she was sad to see some restaurants go, there are some benefits to the school’s dining decisions, especially the meal swipe changes.

“Many students who live on campus have meal swipes and now they have more opportunity to use these meal swipes, which is a bonus since before many students weren’t using all their swipes,” Wheeler said.

Blanton said the university also provides three options for those students who may still be experiencing food insecurity.

Blanton said students could utilize the One Cafe, located on the second floor of Erickson Hall. The One Cafe is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Any student with a valid UK I.D. can get lunch for $1, and students can get several meals at a time if they wish.

The second option Blanton said was for students to contact the Community of Concern. The Community of Concern can offer additional meal swipes to students who may need them. Students who are interested can fill out this form.

Blanton also suggested that students utilize the Big Blue Pantry, located in A252 in the Gatton Student Center, to get free non-perishable food items. Hours for the fall 2020 semester have yet to be announced.

Arion Jett-Seals, UK’s basic needs program coordinator, said that while she does understand there may be a stigma about reaching out for help, to break the stigma, Jett-Seals suggested sharing the numbers of how many students actually utilize these services.

Jett-Seals said the Swipe Ahead program provided nearly 120 students with additional meal swipes, and the Big Blue Pantry had nearly 1,000 visits last fall.

“Let students know they are not alone,” Jett-Seals said. “We must normalize seeking help and be prepared to direct students to appropriate resources.”

Aside from food insecurity, others worried that the new additions to campus’s restaurant selection did not represent the wishes of students.

Madison, a recent UK graduate, said she was surprised to see a second Chick-Fil-A on campus.

“UK has been deemed repeatedly a safe space for LGBTQ and it shocks me that they would welcome another storefront for a restaurant who, in 2019, was still funding anti-LGBTQ organisations,” Madison said.

Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, the director of the Chabad at UK Jewish Student Center, said he saw a different kind of issue with the changes.

“Currently, UK offers very little halal, and zero kosher options on campus,” he said. “At the very least, the University could have reached out to minority students and asked them what they would like to see on campus.”

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said student feedback was taken into account from the yearly survey on dining preferences, but the decisions to close La Madeleine and Steak ‘N Shake were made because of lack of business.

“Students did, effectively, tell us they wanted changes. And the changes we made, in large part, were based on the feedback we received,” Blanton said.

Blanton also said the university was already committed to bringing diverse food options to campus before their recent commitment to further diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Two new vendors within Champion’s Kitchen are both local and black-owned – Sav’s Grill, a restaurant serving African cuisine, and Eiffel Pizza, a pizza restaurant.

“To be sure, though, we are intensifying those efforts now and these brands will be terrific partners on our campus as well as popular with our community,” Blanton said. “They reflect our commitment to students and our commitment to a diverse, welcoming and accepting campus community.”