Making forward-thinking coffee viable in the long term

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CrossRoads opened in August 2021, replacing a cafe called Wilbur’s. / Photos courtesy of UConn

The University of Connecticut’s (UConn) avant-garde cafe was a resounding success. During the lunch rush, students often line up outside the building’s door and wait for the concept’s vegan and vegetarian dishes, according to Ethan Haggerty, the cafe’s manager.

CrossRoads opened in August 2021, replacing a cafe called Wilbur’s, and it is located on the ground floor of the Wilbur Cross building. The idea for the concept was born out of a request from students for a plant-based cafe.

CrossRoads’ menu aims for broad appeal, offering options that are popular with all students, not just vegetarians and vegans.

“We kind of track the eating habits of students here on campus,” said Robert Landolphi, assistant director of culinary development at UConn. “And what we’ve found is that there’s maybe only 1.5 to 2% of our student population that could be vegan and maybe more than 5 or 6% is vegetarian, but there are plenty of students on campus who are a bit more flexitarian in diet, meaning they actually seek to eat more plant-based foods if they are made available to them.

Menus for maximum appeal

The menu doesn’t deviate too much from the standard coffee options – instead it features a veggie twist on favorites.

“[CrossRoads] is quite adjacent to another cafe that still serves the normal coffee fare,” Haggerty said. “It’s not far to go try something vegan. … It’s kind of giving students and staff, faculty, a bit more variety in a very small geographic space.

Landolphi said the team is focused on creating a menu that appeals to everyone.

“That’s why we didn’t do 100% vegan,” he said. “We also went vegetarian because we wanted to catch not only vegans and vegetarians, but we needed to catch the customers who used to eat at Wilbur’s cafe and enjoyed some of our meat options.”

Student feedback also plays an important role in menu development. Haggerty said much of the feedback came from students and taste tests.

“We’ll just make a couple trays of sandwiches or little salads in souffle cups, and we’ll set up right outside the doors over there at CrossRoads and just kind of hand out samples to people and get feedback that way as well. ,” Landolfi said.

Additionally, the team ensures that a variety of diners, not just vegan and vegetarian students, sample new recipes.

The menu features salads and artisan sandwiches, including a bruschetta panini, a vegan Buffalo chicken wrap and a vegan sausage, pepper and onion grinder. Entrees include a bowl of vegan pad thai noodles and tortellini with alfredo and pesto.

Vegan SausageVegan sausage, pepper and onion grinder from CrossRoad.

A variety of baked goods are on offer, including fudgy vegan brownies and raspberry streusel bars.

Additionally, the cafe features a build-your-own yogurt bar, which is popular with students, according to Haggerty. “Honestly, I’ve been very surprised at how many people tell me they’re going [to CrossRoads] specifically for yogurt,” he said.

The station, which is stocked with Greek and coconut yogurt and a variety of toppings and mixes, also offers the option of using ingredients found at other cafes.

“The mixes were things we used at other places, so it allowed us to cross-use some frozen fruit and things we were really ordering for a specific place,” Haggerty said. “It’s really gone. It’s a very, very busy station.

Build your own yogurt bowl. CrossRoad’s build-it-yourself yogurt bowl.

Take on the challenge

Haggerty said that since opening the cafe, the team has learned that Crossroads is more labor intensive than other locations, primarily due to the yogurt bar. “It’s kind of a high-maintenance station in that each customer fills in their own slip and hands it in and we build [bowls] made to order, so it’s very customizable,” he said.

Supply has also created obstacles for coffee.

“Supply has been a bit difficult with some of the vegan products we use,” Landolphi said, noting that the team sometimes has to change the menu or change the recipes depending on what comes in.

A focus on sustainable development

The cafe has emphasized sustainability in several areas, from how the cafe was built to offering a low-emissions menu.

“All eight of our dining rooms are restaurant green certified, so when Ethan took on this project for this cafe, he kind of wanted to align himself to make sure we were somehow following those standards everywhere, from how he built the cafe to the end. how we menu the coffee and products and where they come from,” Landolphi said.

Additionally, the concept sources some of its produce from the UConn student-run farm.

“They grow between 9,000 and 11,000 pounds of organic produce,” Landolphi said. “So obviously our goal is to try to incorporate some of these products as much as possible into some of the salads, sandwiches and entrees that we serve.”

The cafe also collects food scraps to take to the farm for composting.

Haggerty said the focus over the past two years has been to streamline CrossRoads in response to the popularity of the concept.

“Honestly, I was a little hesitant at first,” Haggerty said. ‘I was worried people who lived in the building would start yelling that they couldn’t get chicken soup and other meaty turkey sandwiches, which we sell a ton of, but it became overwhelmingly positive from day one. ”

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