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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

New campus dining hall holds mock opening in preparation for official opening date

Cravings Campus Kitchen on Fletcher Drive gives students, faculty a sample of new dining options

Cravings Campus Kitchen adorns indoor and outdoor seating as it sits on Fletcher Drive.
Cravings Campus Kitchen adorns indoor and outdoor seating as it sits on Fletcher Drive.

Sitting directly next to Student Recreation and Fitness Center at 244 Fletcher Drive, a new dining hall on UF property might just become the go-to for post-workout grub as students and staff scurry to the nearest spot to satisfy their hunger. 

Beginning Tuesday, UF’s new dining hall, Cravings Campus Kitchen, hosted a soft opening, allowing a select number of campus grazers to take a taste of its culturally diverse cuisine each day. 

It becomes the campus’ fourth dining hall, joining Gator Corner Dining Center, Fresh Food Company and Arredondo Café in the Reitz Union. 

Formerly Racquet Club Dining Center, Cravings Campus Kitchen has been in the works for a year. Marc Cruz, 49-year-old director of culinary, wanted to bring a restaurant-quality experience he felt UF’s current dining halls did not. 

“We wanted to move away from the all-you-can-eat buffet,” he said, “and focus on a good-quality entree you can do a meal swipe for.” 

In a cautious effort to ensure equipment was stable and service was high quality, the team at Cravings Campus Kitchen opened its doors unannounced to only a handful of students and staff passing by throughout the week, Cruz said.

The dining center employs kiosks for order-taking and a text message service for notifying customers of their ready order. 

Cruz said the staff at Cravings Campus Kitchen successfully served about 160 students and faculty this week, with the mock opening ending Friday. He and his team are confident in the grand opening Monday. 

“From what we accomplished this week,” he said, “we had no hiccups and it went rather well.” 

Gracing the menu are classic American burgers and sandwiches, as well as international cabo bowls stuffed with rice, beans and other proteins. Meals come in appetizers, entrees and deserts to achieve the fine-dining experience Cruz aims to create. 

Eilen Santos, a 19-year-old UF microbiology sophomore, was among the lucky few to walk through the dining center’s doors this week as part of the mock opening. She was seen waiting outside the glass windows by staff members, who in turn invited her and her friends inside. 

“They are all so sweet,” she said, “and the food is just so good.”

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After enjoying a California burger, unique for its addition of avocado, Santos is sure she will be spending most of her meal swipes at Cravings Campus Kitchen moving forward.

“It has a lot more options,” she said, “and it’s a lot easier to just pick the food, get it and sit down.” 

Zach McKinney is a 25-year-old assistant superintendent of Verdex, the company responsible for the construction of the new dining center. He said he has been part of the project since early December. 

Among the challenges he said he encountered during the construction process was regular relocation. Even so, he said the construction effort is not quite over, as the building was granted a temporary certificate of occupancy. 

“There are a few loose ends we got to commission,” he said, “testing everything and making sure [equipment] is functioning properly.” 

Beginning next week, Cravings Campus Kitchen will be open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It accepts UF meal-plan swipes or $10.40 for credit card purchases. 

Contact Jared Teitel at Follow him on Twitter @jaredteitel. 

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Jared Teitel

Jared Teitel is a third-year journalism major, and this is his second semester as an Avenue reporter. In his free time, he enjoys running, shopping, and drinking coffee. 

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