Located in the Grover Center on West Green, the Atrium Cafe offers more than just food and drink. Beyond the menu, the student-run cafe provides an educational experience for all.
Casey Henderson was once an exercise physiology major, but switched to applied nutrition. Following her transition, Henderson is now enrolled in Nutrition 3350.
“I think nutrition is one of those things that everyone can relate to, and everyone can participate in it and always learn more,” Henderson said. “So I felt like that was going to be the most direct route to where I wanted to go.”
3350 nutrition students prepare a wide range of hot foods, including appetizers and sides, which are then sold in meals at the Atrium cafe.
“The first few weeks we learned simple things like how to cut potatoes,” Henderson said. “It was really cool to not only be able to cook and be able to sell it, but also, we have to make our own menu.”
The course goes far beyond just preparing and cooking meals. During the first half of the semester, Professor Dane Salabak allows the complexity to gradually increase, allowing students to become familiar with the fundamentals of knife cutting and preliminary meal planning.
Although Salabak plans menus to start the course, individual students can choose and plan a menu in the second half of the semester.
“Part of the planning process is reviewing, choosing recipes, meeting with me, determining if their recipes are nutritionally sound or usable for the Atrium cafe, they have to go through the ‘ladder for service,'” Salabak said.
Salabak’s end goal for the students in the class is simple: to enable its students to prepare healthy and unique meals for many using an industrial kitchen.
“At the end, I can turn around and give them a recipe or just tell them to go get A, B, and C out of the fridge and they can run a dish and run their lab,” Salabak said. “So they get a wide range of culinary experiences and opportunities in the lab.”
It’s not just nutrition students from the associated lab who participate in the educational experience. It is also educational for students and faculty from other colleges on campus who visit the cafe for a change of pace from traditional meals.
“I know there are a lot of people in the building who rely on this for lunch,” Henderson said. “You’re usually not going to have the same meal twice, and it also expands your knowledge in this culinary area.”
Recently, the cafe reopened its dining room for the first time since the pandemic began. By reopening this space, the Atrium Café and its students can help broaden the palettes of all who stop by.
“Having the space gives us, again, the opportunity, when our students are planning menus, where they can offer educational resources, or they can offer resources to our customers on their menu,” Salabak said.
One of the cafe’s goals is to be an alternative to places like Kindred Market or The Farmacy for those who don’t have easy access to them. Salaback and his students are also looking to bring more local vendors into the café.
“I think it makes them discover new, healthier ways to eat and explore more nutritious values that can be incorporated into their daily routines and change their lives for the better,” said Cam Drummond, a freshman. studying media arts and production.
Additionally, another goal is to maintain a zero-waste program, which means no food will be wasted at the end of the day.
“I really try to reinforce with my students that if we’re not using it as a usable product, how else can we use it before it ends up in our waste stream?” Salaback said. “Can we compost it? Can we recycle it before it ends up in the trash? »
These goals have earned the cafe the honor of being one of the only three-star green certified restaurants in Athens.
“There is an organization called Green Restaurant Association,” Salabak said. “So what we’ve, again, done at the Atrium has really looked at that rubric and tried to do everything we can to be as sustainable as possible.”
Whether it’s providing nutrition students with experience in the kitchen with meal creation and preparation, or educating customers on whether to expand their palette, the Atrium Cafe is truly a place special and unique culinary.
“Being in a work environment really helps build relationships, as well as getting customers and people to show up regularly,” Drummond said. “And I think that’s a community that’s really good to have.”
The Atrium Cafe is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The cafe accepts Flex Points and Bobcat Cash in addition to debit and credit cards. Customers are encouraged to pre-order meals for pickup between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.