The Dining Commons is open for business

The new Dining Commons at Mount Holyoke College includes made-to-order wok dishes.

By Keely Savoie 

In early January, wearing beaming smiles and the new black uniforms they designed themselves, dining services staff began welcoming their first customers — employees from across campus who came to sample the food from completely redesigned menus and dishes in a bright and modern new space. 

Now, after years of planning, 20 months of construction and several weeks of training, the Dining Commons at Mount Holyoke College is officially open for business. 

Beginning January 24, a seven-day introduction of the facility will showcase each of the new food stations and the staff that make them possible. The rollout will culminate with the announcement of Mount Holyoke’s very own flavor of Herrell’s ice cream. The entire College community is invited to the event, which is slated for Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. 

“We are celebrating the opening of the Dining Commons, yes, but really it’s much more than that,” said Acting President Sonya Stephens. “We are celebrating the reimagining of our community with this gorgeous new space, where food is just one of the things that brings us together.” 

A new deal 

Open from 7:15 a.m. to midnight, the spacious new facility features a wide variety of dishes for the College’s diverse student body. There are nine food stations, which include kosher, halal and vegan meals, a pizza oven, a salad bar, breakfast all day and more. Unlimited swipes of meal cards mean that students are free to come and go as often as they like. 

The dining area seats 1,000 in banquettes and chairs, and has large windows — more than 5,000 square feet of glass — with stunning views of the water. Smaller, themed dining areas offer flexible seating, from quiet and contemplative to convivial and boisterous, and will eventually be available for groups to reserve for events and meetings. 

The chefs, culinary assistants and other staff from dining services moved into their new home at the end of the fall semester. They spent the following weeks learning how to operate new equipment — more than 550,000 pounds of steel have gone into the site — finalizing menus and hammering out schedules. 

“It’s an exciting time,” said Rich Perna, director of dining services. “This is not just a dining facility. It’s a center for the Mount Holyoke community in every sense of the word. It's going to be a gathering place for the whole community, the whole campus — staff, faculty,  students and alumnae.” 

The new facility was constructed with a commitment to eco-friendly practices, from a rain garden to thermal-heated water to food dehydrators. 

The Dining Commons is part of the College’s new Community Center, which will celebrate its grand opening in the fall, and also includes significant renovations of Blanchard Hall. The second floor of Blanchard is now home to the Division of Student Life and the new Unity Space. The third floor hosts the new Weissman Student Commons, which was established by Harriet L. Weissman ’58 and her husband, Paul M. Weissman. 

Blanchard’s ground floor is currently closed for the construction of a grab-and-go store and a pub, which is slated to be open briefly this spring so seniors can enjoy a beverage with family and friends before graduation. 

Beginning on Jan. 24, each day of the festive rollout focuses on different aspect of the vast menu by inviting the community to participate in a #MountHolyokeFood photo-of-the-day challenge, with daily prizes for the best images. 

Each day’s theme centers around an important aspect of the new facility, including sustainability and global diversity. The final prompt, on Jan. 30, is “sweet,” in honor of the College’s new ice cream flavor, which was chosen after a months-long process. 

Herrell’s Ice Cream chose three finalist flavors from more than 280 ideas submitted by the community and created a version of each. Acting President Stephens, Dean of Students Marcella Hall and three students — chosen at random from those who had submitted flavor suggestions — met at the ice cream parlor in December to taste each flavor and cast their secret ballots. 

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