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Liberty University’s new dining hall wins national awards

Less than a year since its grand opening, Liberty University’s Reber-Thomas Dining Center won two gold awards this week in the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) 2024 Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards: New Facility of the Year and Residential Dining Facility of the Year. The state-of-the-art dining center is also in contention for the Grand Prize, to be announced at the NACUFS conference in July.

The NACUFS supports collegiate food service professionals by providing programs and resources on best practices, educational programming, professional networking, and more. The awards are the ultimate professional tribute in college and university culinary arts and celebrate exemplary menus, presentations, special event planning, and new dining concepts.

NACUFS presents the New Facility of the Year award every other year to an outstanding facility that opened within the previous two years; the Residential Dining Facility of the Year is awarded to an outstanding dining facility that encapsulates the spirit of enhancing the student experience.

The Reber-Thomas Dining Center opened its doors at the beginning of the Fall 2023 semester. Spanning 120,000 square feet over 2 stories, the facility can seat more than 2,700 with both indoor and outdoor seating. The center boasts 27 food stations, including an allergen-free room with delectable gluten-free baked goods. Stations include a variety of foods – from international cuisines to homestyle favorites – so all students can find something that fits their tastes. The dining center also hosts cooking classes and pop-up stations with chefs throughout the year, and students can try new and creative dishes.

Liberty Vice President for Auxiliary Services Louis Cambeletta noted that Liberty had a vision to create an experience for students, faculty, staff, and guests like no other in the industry.

“We wanted a facility that we could host large events at, like our President’s Christmas Reception, while also providing world-class food and service consistently to our students every day,” he said. “We wanted to be able to move students into the facility very quickly as well as decrease the amount of time they would be in line at a station during our busiest hours.”

Cambeletta said that when designing a new building, it is hard to predict whether it will “hit the mark” until the facility is fully operational. “I am so excited to say that this facility not only met our design and operations expectations, but it knocked them out of the park,” he said. “We had an unbelievable first year open and have learned so much about how to get even more out of this facility in the future. I believe that year two will be even better.”

Cambeletta loves interacting with students, faculty, and staff and hearing how much they enjoy the new dining center. “It is confirmation that not only did we hit the mark in the design of this facility, but that operationally it has been a success as well.”

He recognized the leaders and staff of Sodexo, Liberty’s dining services provider, for the way they adapted to a new space and have continued to provide superb service.

“This facility would not have had the success it had this year if not for the work that Sodexo as an operations team here on campus put into it,” he said. “They had to come up to speed very quickly on a brand-new facility that is double the size of the one they had come from with new equipment and a new layout. We did some training ahead of time, but you just can’t simulate 3,000 guests coming in all at once. I am so proud of how the team adapted on the fly to all the challenges they faced with this new facility.  Liberty University is extremely fortunate to have them as a partner.”

Shelby Burton, marketing manager for Sodexo, expressed her delight.

“Earning these awards is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of Sodexo in partnership with Liberty University to create not only an impressive state-of-the-art facility but one that also perpetuates thoughtful dining programming and fostering of community.”

NACUFS will recognize awardees and announce the Grand Prize winner during an awards luncheon at the 2024 NACUFS National Conference on July 20 in Louisville, Ky.

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