Food trucks rolling onto La. campuses

The booming food truck craze has hit college campuses in Louisiana, as schools look to meet the ever-evolving demands of picky students.

LSU in Baton Rouge and Tulane University in New Orleans have debuted their own food trucks this fall — merging the ongoing expansion of on-campus dining services with the restaurants-on-wheels phenomenon.

“It’s about being where the students are,” said chef Tom Beckmann, general manager for food services vendor Sodexo at Tulane.

Sodexo, which also runs food services at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, has been steadily rolling out trucks at various campuses that it serves across the country. While it hasn’t yet started one at UL-Lafayette, local food trucks occasionally set up on or around that campus.

Tulane and Loyola share on-campus dining options through Sodexo because their campuses are so close. Ironside, the truck that will rove the Uptown campuses, is set to officially launch later this fall with a menu centered around waffles. It held a soft opening with the start of the fall semester and is doing private events until its official opening Sept. 16.

Meanwhile, Taco Churro’s is serving up Tex-Mex fare for LSU students on campus — tacos, burritos and guacamole and chips. Chartwells, the food services vendor for LSU, plans to launch a second truck next month that will feature a Louisiana-inspired menu with gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice.

“Students seek dining options available around the clock. Food trucks allow a quick dining option and mobility where food actually comes to the student,” said Tom Williamson, resident district manager for LSU Dining at Chartwells.

Across the country, colleges have turned to food trucks as a way to expand on-campus dining options. Iowa State, Penn State York and William and Mary are among universities where food trucks are being rolled out this fall, according to local reports.

The trucks here allow students to pay for their food with their campus dining cards or use cash or credit/debit cards, thanks to mobile readers on the trucks.

The trucks also will operate on home football game days at LSU and Tulane, leaders said.

LSU’s trucks are being subcontracted through New Orleans-based Triple B’s, a food/concessions company.

Tulane and Sodexo are running Ironside through a joint partnership.

Beckmann stressed that the idea isn’t to compete with local food trucks, though anyone can buy food from the on-campus trucks.

He said the idea started about three years ago. He observed the food truck trend before eventually buying a truck and completely gutting it to rebuild a kitchen inside “exactly how we wanted it.”

“Unlike brick and mortar, we wanted something that was movable,” he said.

Like many food trucks that have hit the scene, Beckmann said the goal was for Ironworks to have a unique menu that ties in local ingredients.

That includes a waffle stuffed with duck debris and bacon and drizzled with a sauce made with berries from Tulane’s Luizza Farm, as well as a beef burger with a waffle instead of a bun and dressed with a Creole mustard aioli. There’s even a “PB&J” — a waffle with peanut butter and jelly slathered on it, and, naturally, the truck sells chicken and waffles.

“It’s a new type of sandwich,” said Angela Randall, area marketing manager for Sodexo.

Already campuses have been moving away from the traditional dining hall days of yore — an effort to, as Williamson put it, “deinstitutionalize college dining services.”

The trends mimic what’s happening in the food world off campus — a focus on more local and diverse options.

One factor contributing to that, Randall said, is millennial students have grown up eating out and are in tune with the “foodie” craze.

“They oftentimes have a wider experience, maybe a little more developed palate or preferences,” she said. “One of the things we’ve found that’s most characteristic of our student body is they want something that’s new, and they’re willing to try it even if they decide they don’t like it.”

“Pulse on Dining” — a buffet-style dining concept on LSU’s campus and others that contract with Chartwells — has been nationally recognized for pushing the boundaries beyond traditional cafeteria-style concepts.

“Global cuisine with exhibition style cooking techniques and chef interaction have also forged a new era for students and guests dining on campus,” Williamson said.

At Tulane, one of the most popular eating options is the new “peak performance” station in the campus dining hall.

With hormone-free lean proteins and fresh steamed vegetables, it initially was geared toward “active students” Randall said.

“That station quickly became our most popular,” she said.

Both LSU and Tulane/Loyola also have started hosting regular on-campus farmers markets.

“That’s been so well received,” Randall said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp.

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