Following the selection of Sodexo, a French food services and facilities management company, to run WVU Dining Services at the beginning of 2018, the Mountainlair has been home to new restaurants such as Blue Tomato, BurgerShop, and Tres Habaneros. With a goal of renewing university control over student dining and affording a more adaptive menu to meet student demand, has the lair been improved by their presence?
Since the new inclusions opened, it has become a trope among WVU students to harp on how terrible they are. Whether the discussion is about where to eat, or where not to eat, the average student will choose something they know well over the dice-roll that they perceive BurgerShop or Blue Tomato as.
As I talked to Heather Cochran, Sodexo retail manager for the Mountainlair, she explained the conundrum that the restaurants face, “Well nobody likes change. People become familiar with the chain brands and they know what they like there, so I would say that fifty percent of the kids say ‘Yeah, let’s try something new and see how it is.’ And the other fifty percent say ‘No, no changes. I’m going to stick with what I know.’”
Reactions like this can’t help but be exacerbated by the Chick-fil-a that separates the two establishments. Come in on any weekday, and perhaps even the weekends, and you’ll find first-hand evidence by the noticeable 300-person line for Chick and the ten-person line for either the Blue Tomato or BurgerShop. Situations like these lend themselves to explanations like Cochran’s.
One may ask then, what is being done by the university to increase interest in these fringe establishments? A lot actually. “We’re remaking ourselves every day.” Cochran goes on to say, “Just rolling out the new menu at the pizza shop, we realized that the students were missing the pastas and stromboli that they used to have at Sbarro and we reacted to that and brought them back along with the pizza which we had been serving.”
Though the food can be hit or miss, with my own favorite addition being Blue Tomato’s pepperoni stromboli, the new restaurants are indeed constantly changing and adapting their menus and ingredients to reach new students. As I came to understand, the reason for choosing smaller establishments was to facilitate a dialogue between the student body and the food that is available to them.