Perhaps one of the most exciting developments on the Illinois Tech Mies Campus is the signing of a new dining service contract with Chartwells Higher Education, a subsidiary of British foodservice company Compass Group. So then, for all students (but especially returners), what kind of changes does our new dining overlord have in store for us meager meal plan dependents? TechNews was taken on a tour of the MTCC and its various dining facilities with Chartwells Executive Chef Svenska Lindroth to better understand how the face of Illinois Tech dining has already changed and what is yet to come.
Beginning with the primary dining facility, the Commons on the northeast corner of the MTCC has seen a number of changes to its various stations. For example, the grill at the south pod now places orders via a touchscreen kiosk, meaning that all items at the grill are made-to-order. While this may result in higher wait times for individual grill items, Lindroth made it clear that freshness was a priority of Chartwells service. The soup station around the corner from the grill will continue to operate with a vegetable option and a meat-based option every day. That side of the south pod also contains an all-day fresh fruit and yogurt station (notably featuring freshly cut cantaloupe, pineapple, and honeydew) as well as a self-serve deli station, replacing the made-to-order deli station that was once housed in the north pod. A gluten free station is also present in this pod, with planned expansions such as a gluten-free waffle maker currently in the works. The dessert station remains mostly unchanged, with the notable addition that all ice cream served is Hershey’s branded ice cream. The pizza and pasta station also similar quality changes, with changes in ingredients and recipes offering a welcome improvement.
The central pod in The Commons now houses the salad bar, which will feature a regularly rotating selection of greens, proteins, legumes, and dressings. In addition, an initiative known as “Superfood Tuesdays” will also regularly be featured at the salad bar, wherein a designated “Superfood” will be featured in various items available from the station. During our tour, the selected “Superfood” was tomatoes, so a number of tomato-based salads were available alongside the more regular items. Promotions based around mindful eating, sustainable sourcing, and local vendors seem to already be a running priority of Chartwells service, as this initiative demonstrates.
Finally, the north pod of the Commons houses a rotating halal station which will feature an assortment of global items that meet the halal classification. Adjacent to that station will be a selection of warm vegetarian and vegan entries every day, as well as a grain-based station. Next down the line is a rotating creation station with made-to-order entries, slated to include items such as omelets, tacos, and gyros. The last station on this stretch is the comfort food station, hearkening back to the Hawk Classics station of years past. Completing the north pod of the Commons is a pantry station, featuring an all-day waffle maker, cereal bar, and bread.
Other notable changes throughout the Commons include the addition of napkin dispensers on almost every table and silverware being present at every food station. Smaller changes such as these still contribute to the forgone conclusion that a new dining provider has stepped into the role, as well as being a gesture of convenience. However, arguably the largest tangible change to the Commons comes in the form of its hours -- the location is slated to operate continuously from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every weekday, according to Lindroth. Students are allowed to tap into the Commons at any time during that window, but the full list of stations will only be operational during peak meal hours (7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast, 11:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. for lunch, and 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. for dinner). Weekends will instead see an 8:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. brunch period and a 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. dinner period.
Functionally, Center Court in the middle of the MTCC will continue to fill the same role it has in years past of being a speedier alternative to the traditional meal system of the Commons. Various soft drinks, snacks, and ice cream trips will continue to beckon for your bonus points from the row of coolers in the corner, but the biggest change to Center Court are the three stations now available in it. From right to left, the first station is an Indian food provider known as Saffron, created through a local partnership with Saffron President Sonali Roy. The next station in Center Court is a familiar one: a grill section offering the standard assortment of burgers, sandwiches, and chicken tenders. Finally, the Asiana station is similar to Saffron in that it was created through a local vendor partnership and offers an assortment of sushi and other Asian-themed items. In terms of hour, Center Court is stated to be open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The circular coffee and baked goods kiosk at the southern entrance of the MTCC will continue to function in a similar manner, but similar to Center Court, its main changes come in the form of its new elections on offer - Starbucks coffee and Do-Rite Donuts. A selection of smoothies and pre-packaged drinks are also available at this location, open from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays, from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.
While Talon’s on the upper level of Hermann Hall is closed with no current plans in place for that space, the Bog in the basement of Hermann Hall has seen a massive upgrade in the form of being open on weekday and Sunday nights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., on Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight with its full menu available. The new Bog menu itself is also something special, with a number of waffle items now (including one very creative item known as the “Fatten Mies Up”) on the menu alongside the standard pub food selection of burgers and fried chicken tenders.
10 West and Farmer’s Fridges
On the ground floor of the IIT Tower, 10 West will also continue to operate in the same capacity on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offers its standard offerings of lunch entrees, Starbucks coffee, and other grab-and-go selections. Also in the IIT Tower, on the 6th floor dining area is a Farmer’s Fridge. Alongside its locations in Hermann Hall, the Galvin Library, and the 3rd floor of the Downtown Campus, these refrigerated vending machines offer an assortment of healthy, locally sourced salads, sandwiches, and other snacks.
Time will tell how the new changes and new management will hold up against the overwhelmingly negative impression left upon many students by the prior Sodexo contract. Chartwells has stepped into its new home at Illinois Tech with enthusiasm and a responsiveness to meeting and hearing students. Once the Food Advisory Board (FAB) can establish regular meetings with Illinois Tech Culinary and Hospitality Services, those dialogues will play a pivotal role in shaping the tone of student-administration interactions in regards to dining for years to come, and TechNews will make all efforts to be present at that table and report back to the general student body.