Over the past three years, Dining Services has gone through several developments for students living on campus, the largest being the closure of the Tobey-Kendel dining hall located on Central Campus.
On October 3rd, 2021, Tobey-Kendel closed its doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and understaffing issues. Students were notified four days prior, with no chance to refund their meal plans after the closure.
Nathan Grammer, a freshman when Tobey-Kendel closed, recalled his personal experiences after reading the campus-wide email sent out by administration.
“In order to get to and from Holmes Dining Hall, students on Central Campus need to walk around 40 minutes minimum, per meal, not including standing in line at the stations to get your food,” Grammer said.
Students living on Central Campus banded together and created a Change.org petition to reopen the dining hall. A few days later, a town hall meeting was held, and administration was made aware of the issues via student input.
Grammer attended the town hall meeting, and the single hour of allotted time for the discussion quickly turned into an almost three-hour message to Dining Services.
A handful of solutions were provided for students living on campus, with a grab and go system implemented in Tobey-Kendel that allowed students to get hot sandwiches or salads on the run.
Another addition to the dining services was the introduction of the Meal Exchange program, a system in which students could swap a normal meal from Holmes for a pre-selected meal option at the commercial retail dining alternatives.
At the University Center, Einstein Bros Bagels and Subway were the only two commercial locations. Many students frequented these locations to get a bagel and a coffee or a sandwich and chips as a part of the meal exchange program.
After the addition of Empire State Pizza, Cristol Latin Kitchen, Bowlful and Burger and Co. at the University Center in January 2022, these locations were also included in the Meal Exchange program.
Meagan Johnson, the district manager and director of dining services, explained in further detail.
“Those locations are what we call internal brands, and because they’re internal brands we can control the food costs on those a little better, we can’t control the food cost and things for Einstein’s and Subway,” Johnson said.
This semester saw the Einstein and Subway locations lose their exchange option, leaving many students confused as to why the option was removed.
An Einstein’s employee spoke to The Mirror on the condition of anonymity.
“The bottom line is Subway and Einstein’s were losing money last year because of the meal swipe system,” they said. “I’ve heard from my managers that last year we were hemorrhaging money, essentially.”
Johnson also spoke about Einstein and Subway’s decline in profitability after the new locations.
“Those two businesses did a tremendous amount of business the first year. Last year, when we opened the new facilities, the business significantly dropped at both locations because of all of the new stuff we had open,” Johnson confirmed.
The closing of Tobey-Kendel allowed for a new opportunity for the university, however, renovations are currently underway to completely change the way food is being served not only to Central Campus, but UNC as a whole.
The biggest change to Tobey-Kendel is shifting to a hybrid format, with emphasis on individuality, taste preferences, larger portion sizes and the ability to build your own meal.
“You can make your own pizza, you can do that at the new Tobey-Kendel Pizza,” said Johnson. “You’ll be able to walk in, put your own ingredients on it and we’ll bake it right there for you.”
A corner store is planned to be included in the renovations by offering a wide selection of everyday items. The store will be open 24/7, so students will be able to get whatever supplies they need at any time.
“If somebody was working at one of the art buildings on Central Campus, and they’re firing pottery at midnight and they haven’t eaten yet, they can walk over here and grab a real quick fajita kit and go back to their area,” Johnson said. “They’ll be options for both grab and go and maybe folks that want to cook.”
Many returning students this semester noticed that the meal plan structure has been altered, featuring the total sum of meals given for the semester instead of a weekly basis. Additionally, the number of dining dollars were raised on each level of the meal plan. The adjustments made to the meal program this year were directly in response to student outreach.
The changes being made to Tobey-Kendel are in response to student requests for convenience, and the increase in dining dollars will make it possible for students to purchase more from Munchy Mart and this new convenience store.
This new way of using meal swipes additionally offers greater flexibility for students who are unable to eat during the allotted hours at the dining hall or University Center.
Johnson offered a solution and recommended utilizing the green reusable to-go boxes provided at Holmes and using two meal swipes, using the second to have a meal for the next day.
Frasier Hall has refrigerators at the lower levels for students to store cold lunches and dinners.
“I think once TK goes up and if it works like it’s proposed to, if it offers the three meals a day, that’s a fantastic option because it’s even closer than the UC for people on that side of campus, and it would provide more jobs for students,” the Einstein employee said.
Moving forward in the renovations, Dining Services have made steps to improve student life on campus.
“Central Campus has been in a food desert for a very long time. That’s something that we’re trying to rectify,” Johnson concluded.