Nation’s first gluten-free dining hall opens on campus


A bagel pizza served on Prentice Hall Café’s gluten-free menu on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016.

Rachel Stevenson

Kent State opened Prentice Cafe as the first gluten-free dining hall in the nation on Tuesday to address growing demands for gluten-free foods and accommodations on campus.

“The demand has increased, and it’s not just students with celiac (disease) and intolerances,” said Tracy Holzman, executive chef of University Dining Services. “There are some that do make it a dietary choice.”

She said Prentice Cafe does not only want to be known as a gluten-free facility, but also a dining hall known for clean, healthy eating.

While other college campuses have gluten-free options, Kent State is the first to open a dining hall that is completely gluten-free, said Megan Brzuski, registered dietitian for Kent State Dining Services.

Marlene Maneage, senior manager at Prentice Cafe, said changes to the dining hall were vast to accommodate new gluten-free options, and include redesigning menu options and recipes, training employees in handling food allergies and intolerances, and implementing policies and procedures to ensure the facility stays 100 percent gluten-free.

“Being able to provide one central, safe location that we can make completely gluten-free is crucial and having the certification of the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) assures students who have celiac (disease) or a gluten intolerance that this is a safe location for them to dine in,” Maneage said.

Approximately 1 in 133 Americans—or one percent of the population—are diagnosed with celiac disease, according to a study conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“When people with celiac disease ingest gluten, it causes destruction of the (intestinal) villi in the gastrointestinal tract,” said Tanya Falcone, a lecturer in the health sciences department.

Falcone said celiac disease could cause severe deficiencies, weight loss and malnutrition, making it a life-threatening illness, and students with celiac disease are encouraged to avoid foods such as bread and wheat.

“If you are someone who requires a gluten-free diet, you can’t even have your bread being made next to a bread that has gluten in it,” Falcone said.

She said for students living on campus with celiac disease, it was a challenge finding dining accommodations and they were limited in their choices prior to making Prentice Cafe a gluten-free facility.

“They were very limited, and they were stuck trying to buy their own foods and not going out so much,” Falcone said.

Anthony Miley, a junior computer information systems major who was diagnosed with celiac disease a year ago, said the new dining options at Prentice Cafe are a good alternative.

“I think it’s a great option and everyone will probably start to go there, so it’ll be really good for everybody who has celiac disease to be able to eat gluten-free food,” Miley said.

He said it is often hard to go out to eat with friends, since not all restaurants have gluten-free options.

Falcone said gluten-free options at Prentice Cafe could solve many of these challenges faced by individuals with celiac disease.

“With Prentice having some gluten-free products that (are) amazing because students can now have a place to go instead of having to order their food on Amazon or something like that, or go to their local grocery store,” Falcone said. “You can actually go to Prentice with your friends and eat something.”

Maneage said their goal is to meet the needs of all students and uphold student expectations of Prentice Cafe.

“It was about finding the right products so the average individual who doesn’t have celiac (disease) can still appreciate the food as much as the next student,” Maneage said.

Jennifer Dobrilovic, a senior art history major, said she doesn’t notice much of a difference in the taste of food at Prentice Cafe, and thinks healthier options will be beneficial to all students.

“I think it’s cool they are doing this, and that they dedicated a whole area to it,” Dobrilovic said. “I didn’t really notice much of a difference in the selection from years past.”

Maneage said Prentice Cafe still has the same dining options students are accustomed to while using more organic and fresh ingredients.

“It’s just about meeting the needs of our students,” Maneage said. “The needs and the expectations of our students, that’s what this location is about.”