UK’s $1 per meal cafe continues on almost a year after student hunger protests


A student gets a meal at Fusion in Erikson Hall on Friday, April 5, 2019, before it is turned into One Community Cafe in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Sydney Momeyer

Almost 10 months after its inception, UK’s restaurant that serves student meals for just a $1, continues to serve hundreds of students a day.

Last spring, a student hunger strike that culminated in a peaceful day-long sit-in of the Administration Building—protesting campus food insecurity and racial representation—highlighted a growing student call for more university food and housing support. This year, various food programs have been set up around campus continue to provide food resources for students.

ONE Community Café, located on the second floor of Erikson Hall opened in April 2019, just weeks after the end of the protests. The cafe serves to-go meals for students that cost just $1, and serves about 225 students per day, Executive Director of UK Dining Pulkit Vigg said.

One of their first steps to help fight the issue was to open a place where students could afford a healthy, cheap meal without having to travel off campus. The purpose of the café is to serve enrolled UK students balanced, nutritious meals at an affordable rate.

For the $1 price, students can stop in and get an entrée and two sides to-go. The café also offers vegan options. Students can also take a to-go meal to save for later, still at the same price.

ONE Community Café is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. They serve “home-cooked comfort food,” things such as mashed potatoes, chicken and pulled pork. This year, they started “Wings Wednesday” where they serve chicken wings in the café.

Since the café opened in April 2019, Vigg said they have served around 24,000 students.

To help fund the food they serve at a small price, ONE gets subsidized by Aramark, UK Dining’s partner, and UK itself.

Even though the food is a small price, all employees that work at the café are still being paid for what they do, Vigg said.

The food is sourced from mainly local farms, but also broad-ranged distributors, similar to other dining locations on campus.

“It’s local and national,” Vigg said. “Because, you know, things like bananas don’t grow locally so we have to get them elsewhere.”

As for the students, not only do they attend the café for the cheap price, but the food as well. UK senior and human nutrition major Steffi Taylor attends ONE frequently.

“I normally have done their basic meal, which is things like mashed potatoes, broccoli and a protein option,” Taylor said. “I have eaten their vegetarian option which is a ratatouille of some sort, and then also sautéed vegetables over rice, which is also really good.”

Taylor said that the food is quickly served and in a good area of campus, which makes it all the easier to go and get a meal.

Not only is Taylor a fan of the food, but she appreciates what the café is trying to do.

“I think it’s great,” Taylor said. “Especially as someone who doesn’t live on campus, so I don’t have a meal plan. Knowing there is a very financially acceptable option there for me is nice. It takes a little stress away. If I forget to pack a lunch, as long as I have one dollar on me I can go get a meal and it’ll be alright.”

As of now, Vigg said UK Dining does not plan on opening anything similar on UK’s campus, but instead wants to spread the word about places to eat like ONE.

“This can be scaled at other universities,” he said. “That is what we truly want to do. I understand that we started it and that UK did it first. But I think this is a problem at universities, hunger is an issue that people are dealing with right now.”

Vigg wants to get other universities to follow in UK’s footsteps to also set up programs for affordable food options at their schools.