Small groups of students slowly circled the new 600-seat dining hall at Texas Woman’s University on Monday, chatting about what stations and food items were featured.

“Holy s--t! There’s a deli,” one student told her friend as she looked at the counter with fresh breads made on-site, filling options, a panini press and a toaster.

The deli is one of eight stations in the new dining hall, dubbed Pioneer Kitchen, that officially opened Monday. While officials celebrated with a ribbon-cutting, students filled the new space and were overwhelmed with options.

Students can build their own stir-fry dishes and watch as they’re cooked on a large Mongolian grill, check out the vegan options of the day or visit a gluten- and allergen-free station. There’s also the classic dining hall food: salad bar, burgers and pizza.

Emmaleigh Arnn and Anna Hammond are both juniors, each with a meal plan providing 40 meals a semester. So far this semester, Hammond said they had been to the old dining hall, the Underground, maybe five times. Now, they’re both sure they’ll use up their meal plans at Pioneer Kitchen.

“I had pizza from the wood-fired oven, and it was significantly better than the old one,” Arnn said, laughing. “It smells weird in the other one, and I walked in here and was wowed. It feels like a real college experience.”

In addition to the dining hall options for students, there are other food-related services available at Pioneer Kitchen. There’s a teaching kitchen with live demonstrations to help students learn to cook, as well as a station for students to pick up cook-at-home meal kits that they can customize and make for two or four servings. The meal kit program, called Fed, is designed for students who live at Lowry Woods, the family-inclusive on-campus housing option, said Dianne Jackson, director of dining services.

Another take-home option is groceries for sale near the register. Dubbed the farmer’s market, the university has partnered with local vendors to offer produce and other food products for sale, such as jarred jams and fresh vegan linguine.

There’s also Pioneer Pastries housed within the dining hall, where anyone can order custom desserts and have them delivered anywhere on campus. Students can pay for the service with dining dollars or other forms of payment while ordering, Jackson said.

The additions are designed to help students as the campus becomes increasingly residential, especially with the new residence hall that opened this fall with 872 beds. The goal is to help students stay on campus and keep them from having to hop in a car whenever they need something food-related, Jackson said.

“We wanted to compete outside of our walls, so we looked for programs that would cater to every student need — that’s something students are looking for,” she said. “We wanted to make this a one-stop shop for everything the students need so they don’t have to leave campus, and this brings more value to their meal plans.”

Ribbon-cutting

TWU Chancellor and President Carine Feyten cuts the ribbon Monday for Pioneer Kitchen, the new dining hall on campus.

During Monday’s formal ribbon-cutting ceremony, TWU Chancellor and President Carine Feyten noted the growth in dining services since she started in the job in 2014. The university has added the Oakland Cafe, Which Wich and a Starbucks during her tenure, and now the updated dining hall will add to the student experience on campus, she said.

“To be kind, not only was the Underground undersized, it was also underwhelming,” Feyten said. “As the university has grown and our enrollment has grown, we really did feel that we needed something more appropriate for the campus, the students, and also the faculty and staff. We never really had a place where faculty and staff could sit and eat.”

With the opening of Pioneer Kitchen, the Underground is now closed, Jackson said. The kitchen will remain in use through the semester for catering services until new space in the new Student Union at Hubbard Hall is ready, she said.

The new dining hall at 1601 N. Bell Ave. is also open to the public — $6.85 for breakfast, $8 for lunch and $9.15 for dinner.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @jennafduncan.

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