Gourmet dining on campus

By KATHERINE CLAYTON Lifesetyles Editor

Wagner Cafe draws crowds due to health, balanced meal


The smell of gourmet food can be found on the fourth floor of Wagner Hall every Tuesday.

Wagner Café is a place where students in hospitality management and dietetics programs use skills to plan meals, execute a dining experience for paying customers and prepare meals that include a variety of food groups. Last semester, the café served an average of 40 people each week.

According to Mary Gengler, a lecturer who was formerly in charge of the café, the café was donated by Faye Tyler Wade. Wade donated funds that helped to build the space where the meals are cooked and guests come for a professional dining experience.

“I love the classroom,” Gengler said. “It makes me feel happy to be in here. [The Wagner Café is] just something I’ve enjoyed being a part of.”

The café experience is part of Quantity Foods Lab, a class where students experience working in the food and dining industry.

Kristin Olson, the graduate assistant and head of “back of house,” said students that are working with the customers by either serving the food or by filling glasses are working “front of house.” Students that work behind the scenes making food and cleaning dishes are working “back of house.”

“The Wagner Café is a working lab; it’s a teaching lab for the students,” Olson said. “They learn how to cook meals, recipes in quantity and they learn how to serve these recipes to paying customers so they get the ins and outs in a very controlled environment.”

Olson is responsible for coming up with the first three meals of the semester and then students have to prepare six meals.

“I share what I know as far as my cooking knowledge,” Olson said. “Most of the students in this lab are dietetics majors and they will go onto a dietetics internship and part of that internship is food service management. They’ll take these skills that they’ve honed for the quantity part onto their internship.” 

Before the meal, students in the class walked around the room preparing for the meal attendants. The students wore white chef coats and hair caps to stimulate a real restaurant environment. 

“They need to have the real experience,” said Kunsoon Park, hospitality management professor. “No matter which area you [go into] you have to know how the … food service operates.”

Rebecca Tilberg, senior hospitality management major, took the class because it was required for her major, but says the class doesn’t feel like a requirement.

“It’s a great opportunity to see a restaurant first hand,” Tilberg said. “It’s good practice. What I’m really excited about is the management part.”

Students in the class get to work on both sides of the Wagner Café. Park said that students need to have experience in the kitchen, even if they don’t plan on being in the kitchen because it helps them prepare all the skills they would need to manage a restaurant or hotel operation.

In addition to the students gaining experience through working at the café, attendants get to have a meal made from scratch for $7.

“[People] enjoy … not only the food but also the service … the students are providing. We always get compliments about how wonderful, excellent the service is,” Park said. “They come here not just because of the excellent food, they come here they want to have … excellent service.” 

One person that attended the meal was Angela Loftesness, assistant to Dean of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Barry Dunn. She heard about the meal through different advertisements that they send to faculty and staff. 

“It’s a great learning opportunity for the students in the course,” Loftesness said. “They do such a nice job.” 

Loftesness said that the meals are a balance of all of the food groups. She said her favorite part of the meal of a garden salad with blueberry vinaigrette, roasted vegetable soup with dumplings, pork tenderloin sandwich and old-fashioned apple pie was the sandwich.

“I thought [the sandwich] was fantastic,” Loftesness said.

The Wagner Café has meals already planned for the upcoming weeks. Reservations are needed and cash or Hobo Dough is accepted.

“All of our students do a very good, excellent job,” Park said. “They make my job easy, very easy.”