Student Commons to get fast food face lift

Sam Isaacs
Staff Writer

Starting this fall, students will be able to “have it their way” with the addition of a Burger King and Taco Bell in the University Student Commons. Burger King will take the place of Nao and Zen, and the new Taco Bell will take the place of Zoca’s. Construction is scheduled to take place over the summer.

Lauren Halley, a senior business major, said she is excited for the new choices.

“It is going to be nice to have a Taco Bell on campus,” she said. “The closest one is near Willow Lawn and it will be nice not have to drive that far anymore. I have been waiting for Taco Bell ever since I heard rumors of it opening last semester.”

Dan McDonald, assistant director for the department of business services, said that various aspects including student input were factors used to help make the decision to bring in the new restaurants.

“A big part of making these choices is through surveying the students in one form or another,” he said. “We look at student surveys, the balance and mixes that we will be having, access to a healthy menu or not, Aramark’s recommendation and last, but certainly not least, we look at the brand itself.”

Kristan Cole, the marketing, trademarks and licensing manager, said the 2012 survey involved a ranking system from students to get a feel for what they want to see on campus. The survey was sent out to students in the fall, and a committee made up of students, faculty and staff meets in the spring to discuss changes.

McDonald also said the new restaurants will be “express” versions, like the Chick-Fil-A already in the Commons. He also said an additional Croutons, Salads and Wraps location could make its way into Hunton Hall at the Medical Campus at some point in the future.

Jeffery London, a sociology professor, teaches a class called “The Sociology of Food” which focuses on food issues incuding sustainability, waste and food culture. He said he does not like the idea of a high number of fast food places on campus.

“There are already so many unhealthy places here,” London said. “I think it would be great for VCU if a locally owned place was opened that specialized in local products from farmers in the area. It is easy to open a chain restaurant, but a green, healthy location in the Commons would make VCU an exception to a normal dining  system and could gain us national attention.”

Not all students are excited for the change, either.

“I think VCU should express more original options that aren’t going to give students grease and fat every day,” said Connor Dietz, a junior business major. “Living in a city, you don’t need more fast food on campus. Plus, eating healthy is such a challenge when you are a student.”

The menus for Burger King and Taco Bell are currently undetermined.

Dietz also expressed frustration with the way swipes are handled.

“Certain places only take swipes at certain times,” he said. “Subway in The Commons doesn’t swipe until 2 p.m. What is the point of paying so much for swipes when you can’t use them when you want?  Our school is so populated that the lines get ridiculous whenever one place happens to be taking swipes.”

McDonald said the meal exchange policy, long lines and swipes are issues that are being worked on this summer in addition to the new restaurants opening.

“Meal exchange times are still subject to change. … We have to think about students who do not have swipes, but they have cash and want to eat at these locations too,” McDonald said. “The plan is to make the meal exchange program a little more robust for next fall.”

Taco Bell will accept swipes from 2 p.m. until close, but the time frame for Burger King has yet to be decided.

McDonald also said that VCU is talking with Panda Express about adding a location to the VCU. Jamba Juice in the Commons Convenience will also be improved next semester.

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