Just after Wheaton returned from a short but restful October break, students were greeted by a lengthy email from Dean Kate McCaffrey and Vice President Brian Douglas, discussing the plan to “turn the dining experience into one of the strengths of Wheaton”. McCaffrey and Douglas described a multi-phase project that included a trio of renovations to the major dining options on campus: the Hood Café, Emerson and Chase.
On Jan. 26, a ribbon cutting ceremony with President Dennis Hanno formalized the conclusion of the first phase of the dining renovations. The Balfour-Hood Café received an extensive facelift over break; adding counters, cabinets and light fixtures to go along with slick navy blue wall coverings. The layout of the room has changed as well, with the cash register moving to outside the main service area.
Such visual changes may be the most striking evidence of the five week-long renovation, but the café has changed in a number of other ways as well. Its newly acquired ‘eco theme’ covers everything from local foods to sustainable paper products. Chicken served in the Balfour-Hood Café is free range, the eggs are caged free and the salmon is Monterey Bay approved. Students also have a wider range of food options including hot soups, gourmet sandwiches, daily hot meal specials, and the ability to create your own salad. “There is also a great selection of grab and go snack items with gluten free options,” said Director of Dining Services John Bragel. “We will keep expanding the product offerings and menu selections.”
Now that the Hood Café is completed, dining services will turn its attention to Emerson and Chase, both of which are scheduled to be renovated in the next year. The transformation will be especially pronounced for Chase Dining Hall, which will be stripped down to its structural skeleton before being almost completely remodeled. The project will need to begin in March to allow for its completion by next fall. Emerson, on the other hand, will be completed during winter break of 2015-2016.
Students hope that, post-renovation, the food quality changes seen at the café will also apply to Chase and Emerson. Food variety and quality have been at the forefront of Wheaton’s concerns for years, and there are concerns that the upcoming renovations will be too focused on aesthetics. However, the dining service plans to address food-specific concerns by giving the remodeled Chase separate stations to support different options and types of food. In addition, students will be able to see and have more input into what they’re eating.
In the meantime, dining services is doing its best to adequately prepare for the closing of Chase in March. The primary plan is to expand the use of Emerson, which will see extended hours and increased capacity, especially through temporary dining units. The Spencer-Davis Café, the Loft and the recently renovated Balfour-Hood Café will be used more as well. Dining normalcy will resume in the fall 2015 semester, when Chase reopens.