Gluten-free dining accommodations attract new students

Rachel Stevenson

Kent State’s gluten-free dining hall at Prentice Café has potential to attract new students to the university by addressing diverse dietary needs and restrictions.

“The response we’ve gotten since the announcement was made and we’ve opened has been overwhelming, not just here on campus. I can tell you just over the past couple of days, the feedback from students is that this is great,” said director of University Dining Services, Rich Roldan.

He said national outreach has also been tremendous and that he has been contacted by families of potential students considering Kent State for higher education because of its commitment to dietary restrictions and needs.

“I just got an email yesterday we received from Hawaii from a family who has two daughters who are gluten intolerant and have celiac disease, and she said ‘Great job Kent State. You have me looking at Kent State for my kids to go to because of this,’” he said.

Cynthia Kupper, CEO of the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), said Kent State is making a commitment to the needs of their students by implementing new policies and procedures to ensure Prentice Café remains a gluten-free, safe eating environment.

“Kent State is the first university I’ve seen that has dedicated an actual cafeteria to the process (of becoming gluten-free). What Kent State did made it safer for their students,” Kupper said.

She said the lifestyle choice to eat gluten-free is also a growing trend among millennials, and universities are required to provide diverse dining options in order to meet student’s dietary restrictions and preferences.

“If they require students to have a meal plan, they also are required to meet the student’s dietary needs,” she said.

Creating an entirely gluten-free facility has the potential to revolutionize the Kent State experience for current and future students with specific dietary restrictions and preferences. Lindsey Leddon, a senior biology major who spent the summer working with new students as a FLASHguide, found this to be true.

“The first question they always seem to ask is where’s your favorite place to eat on campus and being able to say that we have a gluten-free dining hall is something that is going to change the game, because there are so many students with dietary restrictions and there’s such a big difference between being gluten-friendly and being gluten-free,” she said.

Leddon also said changes to Prentice Café are revolutionary, and a deciding factor for future students affected by celiac disease and high school seniors interested in attending Kent State.

“For all of the students that have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease that is going to be such a game-changer for them because so many universities don’t have that,” she said. “If it is a make it or break it between us and another university, I definitely think this will be something that will make students want to come to Kent State more.”

University Dining Services opened the Simple Servings station in Eastway Café one year ago to address the growing need for gluten and allergen-free dining options. Roldan said because of increasing concern surrounding dietary restrictions, they realized a need to dedicate an entire dining hall to gluten-free eating.

Kupper, who played a key role in presenting Kent State with their certification from the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), said she hopes in the future dietary lifestyles will be better embraced and more dining halls on college campuses will find ways to accommodate the dietary needs of students.

“I think what one of the important takeaways with what Kent State is doing is they’ve made a dedication and commitment to prove to their students they are dedicated to the program,” Kupper said.

Dining Services will continue to work with Prentice Café to expand menu options and keep the facility gluten-free while providing good-tasting, health-conscious food any student can enjoy, Roldan said.

“I think this is going to be something that is going to make other institutions follow suit and the success is just going to be groundbreaking,” Roldan said. “I think it’s going to be an industry changer.”