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A student buys food at the Ohio University Atrium Cafe in Grover Hall on March 21, 2022.

Atrium Cafe continues to educate students, customers on healthy diets

Located within Grover Center on West Green, the Atrium Cafe offers more than just food and drink items. Beyond the menu, the student-run cafe provides an educational experience for all.

Casey Henderson was once an exercise physiology major but switched to applied nutrition. As a result of her transition, Henderson is now enrolled in Nutrition 3350.

“I think nutrition is one of those things that everybody can relate to, and everybody can have a part in and always learn more about,” Henderson said. “So I felt like that was going to be the most direct route to where I wanted to go.”

Students in Nutrition 3350 prepare a wide array of hot foods including entrees and sides, which are then sold in meals at the Atrium Cafe. 

“The first few weeks, we learned simple stuff like how to cut potatoes,” Henderson said. “It's been really cool being able to not only cook and be able to sell it, but also, we have to do our own menu.”

The class goes far beyond just preparing and cooking meals. For the first half of the semester, professor Dane Salabak allows complexity to steadily notch up, allowing students to become more comfortable with the fundamentals of knife cutting and preliminary meal planning. 

Although Salabak plans menus to begin the class, individual students get to pick and plan out a menu in the second half of the semester. 

“Part of the planning process is they go through, pick out recipes, they meet with me, they figure out whether or not their recipes are nutritionally sound or serviceable for the Atrium Cafe, they have to go through the process of scaling up for service,” Salabak said. 

Salabak’s end goal for students in the class is straightforward: to afford his students the ability to prepare healthy and unique meals for many utilizing an industrial kitchen setting.  

“By the end of it, I can turn around and hand them a recipe or just tell them go get A, B and C out of the fridge and they can execute a dish and lead their lab,” Salabak said. “So they're getting a wide range of culinary experiences and opportunities in the lab.”

It’s not just nutrition students in the associated lab involved in the educational experience. It’s also educational for students and faculty from other colleges across campus who visit the cafe for a change in pace from traditional meals.

“I know there's a lot of people in the building that rely on this as their lunch,” Henderson said. “You're not commonly going to get the same meal twice, and it just expands your knowledge as well in that culinary realm.”

Recently, the cafe reopened their dining area for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. By having this space open once again, the Atrium Cafe and its students can help broaden the palettes of all who stop in. 

“Having the space affords us, again, the opportunity, when our students are planning the menus, where they can offer educational resources, or they can offer resources for our customers about their menu,” Salabak said.

A goal of the cafe is to be an alternative to places such as Kindred Market or The Farmacy for those who may not have easy access to them. Salaback and his students also look to incorporate more local vendors into the cafe. 

“I think it introduces them to new healthier ways of eating and getting to explore more nutritious values that can be put into their daily routines and change their lives for the better,” Cam Drummond, a freshman studying media arts and production, said. 

Additionally, another goal is to maintain a waste-free program, meaning no food will go to waste at the end of the day.

“I really try and reinforce to my students that if we're not using it as a usable product, how else can we use that before it ends up in our waste stream?” Salaback said. “Can we compost it? Can we recycle it before it just ends up in the trash?”

Having these goals has enabled the cafe to achieve the honor of being one of the only three-star green certified restaurants in Athens. 

“There's an organization called the Green Restaurant Association,” Salabak said. “So what we, again, did at the Atrium was really looked at that rubric and tried to do everything that we could to be as sustainable as possible.”

From providing nutrition students experience in the kitchen with creating and preparing meals, to educating customers an opportunity to broadened their pallet, the Atrium Cafe is truly a special and unique culinary venue. 

“Being in a work environment really helps build relationships, as well as getting customers and people to walk in regularly,” Drummond said. “And I think that is a community that's really good to have.”

The Atrium Cafe is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cafe accepts both Flex Points and Bobcat Cash in addition to debit and credit cards. Customers are encouraged to pre-order meals for pickup between 11 a.m and 1 p.m.

@colepatt0717

cp676419@ohio.edu

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