Juan Villa / The Collegian
Thereâ€™s a new item on the University Courtyard Dining Hall lunch menu this semester, bringing with it a taste of Japan and approval from some campus diners.
Each Monday through Friday, a chef from Bentleyâ€™s Fresh Market on Fort Washington Road in Fresno arrives at the dining hall to prepare fresh sushi for the customers.
David Binkle, director of Dining Services, said hiring the sushi chef is part of his goal to provide freshly prepared food.
â€œWeâ€™re able to do more presentation,â€ Binkle said. â€œMore cooking in front of the customer as opposed to all the food being prepared in the back and then being brought out as the day goes along.â€
Binkle meets with the Residence Hall Association and other student groups on campus on a regular basis. When students asked for more variety and healthy food options, Binkle said he expanded the salad bar and introduced daily feature specials.
Jessica Maddox, a 21-year old pre-physical therapy major, eats at the dining hall about once a day, usually for dinner. Sheâ€™s tried the sushi, describing it as â€œpretty good.â€
â€œI know a lot of people really like it so thatâ€™s one good addition,â€ Maddox said.
Although the main dishes donâ€™t always meet with her approval, Maddox said the salad bar and sandwich bar are â€œusually good.â€
â€œItâ€™s hard to know if youâ€™re going to get a good meal or not,â€ Maddox said. â€œWhen they have a barbecue, itâ€™s a good variety and itâ€™s good.â€
Freshman Danielle Escover eats at the dining hall about 10 times a week. She likes the sushi, salad and deli sandwiches.
â€œThere are a lot of side foods and, personally, I like a lot of vegetables,â€ Escover said. â€œThere arenâ€™t a lot of veggies there unless you have a fresh salad. The greenery in the salads is always pretty fresh.â€
The dining hall, which is also open to the public, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The prices range from $5.10 for breakfast to $7.95 for dinner. During the â€œFive Buck Fridayâ€ weekly special, all meals are $5.
The menu features food stations, including The Back Line, or main entrees, Daily Features, The Grill, The Deli Bar, Soup Stop, Salad Bar, Potato and Pasta Bar, and Dessert Bar.
Brent Hansen, marketing coordinator for the California State University, Fresno Auxiliary Corporation, said The Grill station provides students with more options for made-to-order food, including hamburgers, veggie burgers and grilled chicken.
â€œWe have a chef on site that will cook for students right in front of them,â€ Hansen said. â€œStudents can ask for specially prepared foods, whatever the theme meal of the day might be.â€
Hansen said the dining hall holds spirit nights on football game days, theme nights and outdoor barbecues.
â€œThereâ€™s sometimes the monotony of eating at the same establishment day in and day out,â€ Hansen said. â€œThatâ€™s why weâ€™re trying to come up with some new ideas and some new dining options to give our students while eating in the same facility.â€
For those students who want a quick sandwich or snack for studying, the Courtyard Express is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The restaurant, which opened in the spring of 2007 on the Atrium patio, is based on what Hansen calls the â€œgrab and goâ€ concept.
â€œIt provides students with a late-night snack option and itâ€™s in a safe and secure location,â€ Hansen said. â€œIt is within the Atrium, and the only way youâ€™re allowed to get into the Atrium past 5 p.m. is to have your residence keycard.â€
But with the customer base so diverse, providing food options to please everyone is a challenge, Binkle said.
â€œMy goal is to always get better at it,â€ Binkle said. â€œI know we have a long way to go and Iâ€™ll be the first to admit that. I think we have come a long way from where we were a year or two years ago.â€
Yet, the changes in the University Courtyard Dining Hall arenâ€™t happening fast enough for some students.
After Fresno Bee food columnist Joan Obra wrote an article about Binkleâ€™s improvements, fourth-year student Lauren McQuone said in a letter to the editor that the menu was upgraded for Obraâ€™s planned visit.
â€œThat particular day, when you enjoyed the fresher and healthier entrees of University Dining Services,â€ McQuone said in the letter, â€œthe students who dine there on a daily basis were delighted though puzzled by the unexplained improvement in the menu.â€
McQuone said she might discontinue her meal plan if the dining hall menu doesnâ€™t improve.
â€œThis talk of plans of new, healthier, organic, eco-whatever food options is lovely, but students paying now should benefit now,â€ McQuone said in the letter.
Obra, who received more than one letter, said students might have misunderstood the purpose of the article â€” to highlight a local example of the national trend to improve menus at college and university dining facilities.
â€œThe story was pointing out this is a work in progress,â€ Obra said in a phone interview with The Collegian. â€œThese are things that theyâ€™re trying to do and theyâ€™re instituting. This is something thatâ€™s being done at other universities across the nation, but at no point was it ever intended to be a review or an investigative piece.â€
Obra said she toured the kitchens as part of her visit to the dining hall.
â€œI was with David, but thatâ€™s because I had set up an interview with him,â€ Obra said. â€œWe were doing this specific news story to look at the changes that heâ€™s trying to implement.â€
Obra said the letters from students are useful.
â€œWhat Lauren says in her letter actually makes a good point,â€ Obra said. â€œIf youâ€™re going to be paying now, you should benefit now, and certainly I think thatâ€™s one of the things David Binkle is trying to do with some of these changes.â€