“Last year the University food service contract went out to bid. During that process we interviewed commuter students, resident students, faculty and staff to see what they were looking for from their food service provider for the next few years,” said Matt Ludwig, director of operations for Chartwells Dining Services on campus. “They really wanted a Chinese food concept on campus, so we proposed Panda Express to the University.”
Ludwig says Chartwells has Panda Express at several other universities, and it has been very popular among students and staff.
“I am really excited to see this addition to the other offerings we already have on campus,” said Ludwig. “I think it will be a big hit with the students.”
Alicia Ticer, a Southeast senior from Scott City, Missouri, said, “I had my first Panda Express experience this summer, so I am so excited about it coming to campus. I think it’s a very healthy option for students, and I think it’s going to add something really exciting to campus. New students are going to love it because it’s another hometown favorite.”
To accommodate the Panda Express concept, an expansion of the University Center will be undertaken. This new expansion of the University will be to the south of the University Center, in the area directly behind the current SONO concept. Through the 850-square-foot expansion, a full Panda concept, including production, storage, and serving space will be accommodated without losing any current seating or meeting room space in the University Center. To accommodate the building of this expansion, both SONO and Dippin’ Dots have closed. Ludwig says SONO may find a new home in the Market Food Court if there is the demand. Chartwells will conduct student surveys before making that determination.
The Panda Express project will be bid in early October and work is expected to begin in mid-October. Plans call for construction to be completed in January, with Panda Express to open sometime during the spring 2016 semester.
The on-campus Panda Express will have a full menu that will include vegetarian items and “wok smart” entrees with 300 calories or less and at least 8 grams of protein. Hours of operation will follow similar hours to the Redhawks Market and are projected to be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students will be able to use their meal plan, or “Redbucks,” as they do at other retail locations on campus such as Starbucks and Subway.
“When I heard about Panda Express, I got really upset that I decided to move off campus the year it is coming in,” said Tyler Sayer, a Southeast senior from O’Fallon, Missouri. “I will be getting Redbucks just so I can go to Panda Express.”