As with everything else at VMI this fall, food service has undergone numerous changes in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Crozet Hall, in addition to three separate formations for breakfast roll call and supper roll call, there’s been the addition of a grab-and-go lunch option in the Sub’s Mess, which is located on the side of Crozet facing Main Street. The to-go lunch includes the hot entrée of the day and a vegetable, plus chips and a dessert. Bottles of water are available, as well.
“They literally just grab it, and they’re in one door and out the next,” said Mary Davis, resident district manager for Parkhurst Dining, VMI’s food service partner.
The first day the grab-and-go lunch was offered, Monday, Aug. 31, only 25 cadets chose that option. Two days later, that number had swelled to an astonishing 400, a response that Lt. Col. Lee Clark ’93, director of auxiliary services, deemed “fantastic.”
The Post Exchange has also been the site of many changes designed to move cadets along more quickly and reduce personal contact. All of last year’s options – a hot grill line and Starbucks coffee, plus Freshens Fresh Food Studio, which serves rice bowls, sandwiches, smoothies and more – are available, but there’s now online ordering and a self-checkout system as well.
Online ordering began in early September. “It was a little slow, to be honest with you,” said Donna Hart, assistant director of retail for Parkhurst Dining. “But I have a feeling it’s going to go insane. My staff would much rather know they have 50 burgers to fry.”
The self-checkout system works exactly like such a system in a grocery store. Anything with a bar code can scan, and the buyer then pays with a credit card. “It’s just like walking into Walmart,” said Hart.
To reduce the number of people in the PX at any given time, the seating capacity has been cut by approximately 75 percent, and the televisions have been turned off. Traffic flow, too, has changed: Cadets are encouraged to enter the PX via Third Barracks and exit via the side doors.
And while both Crozet Hall and the PX offer a multitude of food options for cadets, everyone gets a yearning for something new and different every once in a while. Since cadets currently are allowed off post on a very limited basis, Clark and others have worked to bring them a new concept: The DCC at Foster Stadium. The letters stand for Dan’s Concession Cart, and the namesake is Dan Decarlo, Parkhurst’s concessions supervisor at VMI.
It’s meant to be a food truck without the truck, serving fare that can’t be found elsewhere on post. At lunchtime on Wednesday, Sept. 9, the first trial run of “concept food” was offered on post, with chicken wings and coleslaw served at the visitor’s concession stand.
As of early September, Clark was planning on offering concept food on Wednesdays and Fridays at lunchtime. “It’s dependent on staffing, really, as well as interest from the cadets,” he said. “We’ve put so many restrictions on [cadets], we want to give them something.”
And while everyone is eager for the pandemic to be over, Clark hopes that some of the dining service changes made this fall, particularly the PX’s online ordering and self-checkout system, will become a permanent change.
“Those are kind of key to getting more traffic, with staff and employees coming into the PX,” he noted.
Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing