Unique Dining Experience at Hendrix College

The opening line of the website for Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, states: "Welcome to a place that celebrates uniqueness." One of the ways that statement rings true is in the dining hall.

Dawn Hearne, the Director of Dining Services at Hendrix, explains that the program has evolved over time to meet the needs and requests of their students, to keep up with trends, and to provide the best experience for their campus community.

Variety of Cuisines

There are five main areas in the cafeteria, each with their own menu, Hearne explains. Off the Grill offers a made-to-order deli station, burgers, fries, and other classic grill favorites. The Homestyle area features a variety of home cooked favorites, including a vegan and vegetarian option, as well as twelve vegetable/ grain selections.

At the World’s Fare, she said guests can choose homemade pizza from our stone pizza oven, get creative at the DIY wok/stir fry and omelet station, or choose from a selection of rotating cuisines such as African, Chinese, Cajun, and Italian. In Sweet Bites the smoothie station is always busy, and students also love the three daily desserts, soft serve machine, and hot cookies.

Garden Variety is not your typical salad bar, offering eight fresh fruits, four soups, nine salad dressings, and more than thirty salad toppings and choices. Additionally, it features a Specialty Salad area, with daily choices of Compound Salads, hummus, and grilled fresh vegetables. “I enjoy the Specialty Salad area the best,” Hearne continues, “because we have been able to showcase quite a bit of creativity and freshness with this plant forward station.”

One of the many friendly faces students see in the Caf is Eric Jones (aka Eric the Pizza Guy). His Instagram account won a staff award in 2017, the A.C. Millar Innovator Award, given to a staff member who is recognized for having the courage to champion new and innovative ideas for the betterment of Hendrix College.

Birthday And Other Celebrations

The cafeteria workers prepare cakes in the bakery for upcoming birthdays. When a student enters the dining hall, usually someone with them will alert the dining staff. A cake with candles is brought out by several members of the team, and it is announced to the entire dining hall; guests are invited to join in the singing of their special birthday song.

Students with summer birthdays can request a cake before they leave in the spring or when they get back in the fall. Hearn says, “We do our best to celebrate every birthday we know about!” “One thing our students and staff really enjoy are our special events or ‘monotony breakers’,” offers Hearn. These could be small additions (such as weekly ice cream sundaes) or large themed meals once a month. Some are traditions now, others are new favorites.

“We really try to go all out with decorations and menu to give the students something to get excited about,” Hearn said, “and to break up the ‘routine’.”

A sample of that is the Halloween party, Thanksgiving feast, and the Roaring 20’s party. They also roll out their own “food truck” termed the Warrior Wagon every week where guests enjoy such items as Korean BBQ tacos and a nacho bar.

Accolades From Administration, Faculty, Staff, And Students

Dr. David Sutherland, Associate Provost and Professor of Mathematics, has been at Hendrix since 1992 as faculty and was a student there from 1977 to 1981. He is very proud of the cafeteria at Hendrix College. He believes that one of the reasons for the great success is the cafeteria leadership, which has traditionally been a very long term position. He emphasized this by saying, “We have had fewer cafeteria directors than academic deans.”

Sutherland continued, “The staff who work in the cafeteria are incredible. They know almost everyone on campus by name and try to make dining a fun and friendly part of the day.”

When asked what his favorite cuisine there is, he responded, “The homestyle line and the fresh fruits and salads are my favorite. The homestyle food is better than any commercial traditional ‘meat and three’ restaurant in the area.”

Several students gave their testimonials in regard to Hendrix cafeteria. Jessica Frazier Emerson ’20 had this to say: “I think the best part of the Hendrix cafeteria is the role it plays in fostering a greater community. The staff is a source of love and home away from home. The Caf serves as not only a place for a tasty meal, but as a safe haven for political, casual, and happy discussions among students and staff.”

Max Parker ’21 agrees. “The food is truly great.and I always enjoy seeing some of my favorite staff on campus.” Graham Anderson ’20 summed up the feeling of most people on campus.

“I believe that the cafeteria is one of the hearts of student life at Hendrix. Beyond being a major social hub, the cafeteria staff never fails to be welcoming to all students by remembering students’ names, asking about students’ days, and even checking to see how major tests went. I don’t know a single student at Hendrix who doesn’t love going to the Caf.”

About the Author
Sheila Wagner has spent the last several years working as a professional editor and recently became the staff writer for Private University Products and News. Wagner can be reached at sheila@pupnmag.com.