Nao and Zen still in; Burger King postponed

Caitlin Puffenberger
Contributing Writer

Construction on a Burger King in the Student Commons has been postponed indefinitely due to structural constraints, according to Tamara Highsmith, VCU dining sales and services manager. However, a new Taco Bell and an expanded Chick-fil-A are due to be completed on schedule in early fall.

Earlier this spring, VCU Dining Services announced plans to add a Burger King and a Taco Bell to the Student Commons, replacing stir-fry bar Nao and Zen. However, once construction began this summer, Highsmith said VCU Dining realized the ventilating hoods in Nao and Zen were not compatible with Burger King’s needs.

“The hoods are sized and built for specific applications … and it requires a lot of additional review, a lot of additional hood engineering, to make sure that … it’s the proper cooking equipment,” Highsmith said. “Rather than delay the build-out of the highly-anticipated Taco Bell and the expansion of Chick-fil-A … we opted to keep Nao and Zen because we know the hoods will work for that location.”

Highsmith said once the construction on Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A is finished, they will reevaluate what structural changes need to be made for the Burger King.

“Burger King is the cited brand for that location,” she said. “That has not changed.”

The announcement that a Burger King was coming to VCU was met with mixed feelings from students, primarily because it would be replacing Nao and Zen.

“I’m a vegetarian, and Nao and Zen was my go-to place,” said Grace Oxley, a senior English major. “If Burger King comes in, that entire option would be gone.”

Oxley felt so strongly about the proposed change that she signed a petition started by another VCU student to keep Burger King out of the Commons. More than 300 people signed the petition.

Highsmith said VCU Dining was aware of the petition and reached out to the student who started it, but they didn’t respond.

“We like to provide many outlets for students so that they can actually come sit down and talk to us,” she said. “If they’d like to come and talk about a few concerns or a few opportunities for improvement, we’re available to do that.”

Nao and Zen will stay open after a kitchen compatibility issue delayed the planned Burger King. Photo courtesy of Shafer Bird.
Nao and Zen will stay open after a kitchen compatibility issue delayed the planned Burger King.
Photo courtesy of Shafer Bird.

She also said the decision to bring the Burger King to VCU in the first place was based in part on student feedback garnered from annual dining surveys.

“The survey did specifically ask, if you could have seven brands in the Commons, current or new, what would you choose?” said Kristan Cole, Business Services marketing manager. “That’s how we came up with new brands that we were going to add and what we were going to retire.”

Cole and Highsmith also said VCU Dining is making other efforts to provide vegetarian and vegan students with appropriate cuisine.

“I think we’re not taking credit for … what we’re already doing and how expansive (students’) choices are,” Highsmith said. “For instance, at Chili’s, there are a lot of entrees and a lot of food items that you can make substitutions in to make it vegan or vegetarian.”

She said soups and salad dressings at Shafer Court Dining Center are made gluten-free and vegetarian whenever possible, and that students with specific dietary needs can even make appointments with one of their chefs to discuss their options.

“We had a request from a group of Muslim students for halal meats, and we were able to accommodate their requests,” Cole said. “So now, every day, there’s halal meat in Shafer.”

There are plans to provide more options for vegans and vegetarians on campus, Highsmith said.

“In the next year and a half, we will be adding a dedicated salad station in Cary Street Market Deli in response to students’ requests,” Highsmith said. “And there will probably be more changes to the dining program trying to accommodate those healthy needs.”

However, some students feel like even this option is not enough.

“There’s a big difference in the protein and fillingness between salad and stir-fry,” Oxley said.

1 Comment

  1. I’m the student who created the petition, and It was interesting to read that VCU Dining supposedly “reached out” to me, because this is certainly the first I’ve heard of it.

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