VCU adds variety to dining options with some locations closed

Laurel & Grace Place houses Bento Box, Raising Cane’s and Twisted Taco. The building is currently closed because of construction on the Laurel Street Deck. Photo by Fabian Fontanez

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

Students are navigating nutrition options with fewer locations available on campus as familiar favorites, such as Raising Cane’s and Bleecker St. Cafe, are out of service. 

Freshman pre-nursing major Maya Madore said she enjoyed getting Raising Cane’s at Laurel & Grace Place last semester and was disappointed to hear that it was closed. The building houses Raising Cane’s, Twisted Taco and Bento Sushi. VCU spokesperson Anna Obermiller said it is closed due to construction on the neighboring Laurel Street Deck

Madore said she believes it’s possible to maintain a healthy diet on the meal plan, but that a lot of it comes down to self-discipline.

“I think it’s possible, but I go for whatever is faster and easier,” Madore said.

VCU’s registered dietician, Erin Thornton, works with students to advise healthy decisions regarding their diet and possible allergies. 

Thornton said she has seen a decrease of students seeking her help, due to less frequent on-campus activity. In a typical semester, she said she has appointments with between 20 and 40 students, with more either emailing her a list of questions or approaching her in Market 810 at the Shafer Court Dining Center on campus.

Avo Kitchen, a new dining location on the university’s meal plan that replaced Cary Street Market & Deli, is Thornton’s favorite location because of the healthy choices available there, she said. It’s open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m at 355 W. Cary St.

Avo Kitchen has different food stations within the location, similar to Market 810. Students can swipe to enter and use an extra swipe for a meal at the Chef’s Table station, which has a new menu every week. Other options are available to students with the initial entry swipe.

Avo Kitchen also houses the True Balance station, VCU’s first option free from the eight major allergens listed by the Food and Drug Administration — milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. Thornton highly recommends this to students with allergies, since absence of cross contamination can’t be guaranteed at other locations.

Erin Thornton

“We take all steps necessary to limit the cross contamination as much as possible,” Thornton said. “It’s not a guarantee with many of our locations with just the nature of open kitchens.”

Students living in Brandt Hall, Gladding Residence Center, GRC III, Johnson Hall and Rhoads Hall are required to purchase what VCU calls “essential meal plans,” which include 200 or more swipes. Options include: 

  • 300 Swipes Plan + 100 Dining Dollars 
  • 250 Swipes Plan + 300 Dining Dollars  
  • 250 Swipes Plan + 175 Dining Dollars  
  • 200 Swipes Plan + 300 Dining Dollars
  • 200 Swipes Plan + 150 Dining Dollars 

Students with severe food allergies can negotiate a smaller meal plan through a committee, Thornton said. The committee consists of Thornton, VCU Dine Business Manager Lauren Hay and Assistant Director of Student Accessibility and Educational Opportunity Ricardo Clauden-Cross. Thornton said students typically approach her for guidance first, then proceed to submit a request. 

Thornton said students looking for healthy snacks can find grab-and-go options at P.O.D. Market in the University Student Commons. She recommends the boxed salads, boxed sandwiches, yogurt cups and low-fat cheese. Thornton said she suggests picking snacks that include both carbohydrates and protein, such as protein bars. 

Market 810, known as Shafer among students, has reduced hours compared to previous school years. The dining hall now opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is closed on the weekends. 

Obermiller said the size of the on-campus population and student habits from last semester informed the decision to reduce the dining halls’ hours.

“We continue to monitor the traffic at our locations and make adjustments as needed to locations and hours throughout the semester to make sure we can best serve the VCU community safely,” Obermiller said in an email.

Au Bon Pain at 944 W. Grace St. was closed in the fall but has reopened this semester, partly due to the closure of Laurel & Grace Place. Au Bon Pain is open seven days a week and accepts swipe exchanges all day. The location serves breakfast and lunch options, including breakfast sandwiches, soup and salads.

Thornton said students can contact VCUDine for help maintaining a healthy diet on university meal plans.

“It’s not always the easiest, but, you know, we are definitely here as a resource,” Thornton said.

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