Big changes come to Memorial Union Food Court

After renovations throughout the summer, the Memorial Union food court features a modern layout with new menu options for students.

Talon Delaney

The Memorial Union Food Court is practically unrecognizable after changes to its floor plan, menu items and food suppliers were made over the summer break.

These changes are part of a larger planned overhaul of all Iowa State dining centers, and long overdue, said Mohamed Ali, director of campus dining services.

“I wanted to change [the Memorial Union Food Court] as soon as I saw it at my interview,” Ali said, speaking of his job interview with Iowa State two and a half years ago.

Ali said the loud soda machines and clunky layout of the MU dining center was embarrassing and the available food options didn’t offer a sufficient variety of cuisine.

“We want to make students comfortable and provide a variety of food,” Ali said. “We want you to feel at home whether you’re from Iowa, another state or another nation, entirely.”

For the MU specifically, this means a more open layout and menus with halal, vegan and vegetarian options. Halal is a term used to designate food that is allowed by the Quran. Ali also worked with dining center staff on reducing reliance on corporate food suppliers.

For example, Iowa State previously purchased large quantities of frozen pizzas from Godfather’s Pizza to serve at the MU. Now the school makes its own dough at the university’s bakery and dining staff prepares their own sauce.

“The Food Court was given a much needed face lift,” said Nolan Green, the chef de cuisine at the MU dining center. “It really opened up different areas of creative freedom when we stopped depending so much on these corporate suppliers.”

Green has been working for Iowa State dining services for five years and was excited when Ali shared his ideas about bringing changes to the dining centers. He also took on more responsibility when Ali began turning away from corporate chains for menu options.

Similar to Godfather’s Pizza, the MU used to rely on food from Chester’s Chicken and smoothies from the company Freshens. With these suppliers out of the picture, the dining center staff has had to work to maintain a diverse menu on their own.

“When you have these brands around, you are in a box,” Ali explained. “In that box, you cannot be creative.”

Even with these brands gone, Green and Ali made sure to keep popular menu items.

“We still have basically the same menu items even though Chester’s is gone,” Green said. “There’s still curly fries and chicken strips, it’s just we’re doing it on our own.”

These menu items are served at the new Iowa State original restaurant, the Rowdy Rooster restaurant.

Now, the smoothie shop in the MU is called Whirlybird’s Smoothies, and Green designed the menu himself.

“Now for the first time we have dairy free smoothies here and at State Gym, too,” Green said. “Since we’re doing it all ourselves, we can really listen to student wants more.”

Ali and Green did more than just move away from brand-dependency. Many of the MU restaurants have new names and different menus. Yum Burger, formerly Cyburger, no longer uses frozen beef. Burrito Works is now called Poco Picante, and features a breakfast menu.

“We were looking to add to the menu and keep things fresh,” Green said. “Yum Burger and Poco Picante have vegan and vegetarian options, and the menu at the salad bar will change seasonally.”