By Nick Erickson
George Washington University sophomore biology major Erica Hall looked down at a full plate of food—something not always easy to come by being a vegan—with a sense of relief. She had pasta, rice, vegetables and even protein that matched her dietary needs.
The best part? She didn’t even have to venture off campus to find such a meal.
Hall enjoyed Wednesday’s lunch hour with five of her friends in the just opened Thurston Dining Hall, which is part of the university’s transformative dining project.
Thurston’s new culinary experience in the basement of the building is the first all-you-care-to-eat dining hall on the Foggy Bottom campus (Shenkman Hall is scheduled to open a similar-style eatery for the spring 2023 semester).
GW Dining has made flexibility and choice focal points in the project as food options vary to support a diverse range of identities, health and dietary needs, activities and schedules. That includes, to Hall’s delight, vegan options.
“I feel like I can really get a much more balanced meal,” Hall said. “Just a lot more options, in general, for sure.”
Thurston’s Dining Hall is open to the entire GW community, in addition to those undergraduate students who have signed up for a dining meal plan during the 2022-2023 academic year. The cost is $8 for breakfast, $10 lunch and $12 for dinner, and payments can be made in Dining Dollars, Colonial Cash or cash/credit. Once inside, patrons can enjoy food from any of the stations as part of the all-you-care-to-eat experience.
“I feel the dining hall is something that’s really going to enhance my student experience here at GW,” said sophomore international business and real estate student Stephen Pearson. “It’s expensive to eat around [Foggy Bottom], and the fact that we can eat a full meal for the same amount of money as only buying a cheeseburger elsewhere is huge.”
Monday through Friday, breakfast runs from 7:30 a.m. — 10 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. — 3 p.m. and dinner 4:30 p.m. — 9 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, brunch will be from 10 a.m. — 2 p.m. and dinner once again 4:30 p.m. — 9 p.m.
There are nine concept stations at the Thurston’s Dining Hall, including a made from scratch in-house bakery, the Flame grill, Innovation Kitchen homestyle meals, 500 Degrees pizza kitchen and Pure Eats, an allergen station for students with food sensitivities.
The center of the hall has what GW Dining Director Douglas Frazier affectionately dubbed “the city’s biggest salad bar,” which gives patrons a healthy option at all times of the day, which sophomore exercise science major Mayah Bourne said is especially important. As a student, she’s done research looking into food insecurity and nutrition, and she said college students can be particularly vulnerable to not having enough physical, social and economic access to quality food. She believes Thurston’s Dining Hall opens that access for students.
“I feel like having a dining hall really allows you to have the proper nutrition that you should have,” Bourne said.
The variety in food choices allows for the GW community to eat whatever it is they feel like, no matter what time of day is. On Wednesday, first-year students and roommates Sofia Daniele and Olivia Gado helped themselves to the waffle iron at the Nook—an all-day continental breakfast spread. While it was waffles on Wednesday, it could be another menu choice a different time, including food they may never have tried before. One of the reasons Daniele wanted to come to GW was because it was in a city with many cultures represented, and she can experience that at the Thurston Dining Hall. One of the food stations, Crave Global, offers cuisine choices from many countries and cultures.
“I think with GW having a lot of international students, it’s a really cool opportunity to meet these new people and just come into the dining hall and have different stations and different foods from across the world,” Daniele said.
The open, free flowing setup at Thurston Dining Hall that seats 225 people provides a central space for gathering and the opportunity to meet other members of the GW community, which is something Gado appreciates.
“This makes it more like a traditional college experience where you can sit down and sit next to random people,” she said.
There are options for those who may be more on-the-go or prefer quiet time. Students participating on the GW Dining Meal Plan can pre-order a meal from the Butcher & Baker deli counter via the Boost Mobile App and, at their convenience, pick-up your order via a secure food locker. The Boost App on Android or iOS is available in the app store or by texting BOOST to 99299. Butcher & Baker is open weekdays from 11 a.m. — 9 p.m., weekends from 11 a.m. — 2 p.m. and then 4:30 — 9 p.m.
The Foggy Bottom dining halls complements the food offered at Pelham Commons and the Buff & Brew Coffee Shop on the Mount Vernon campus and District House on Foggy Bottom that opened earlier this semester. Students who participate in the GW Dining Program meal plan will receive additional information about their spring 2023 meal plans by the end of the month.
The biggest motivation behind the dining transformation, first announced in August 2021, was to enhance the overall GW student experience, and Wednesday’s opening of Thurston’s Dining Hall was the latest step in that process.
“This anchor dining hall on Foggy Bottom is integral to our multi-year effort to transform dining at GW into a program that is focused on our residential students,” said GW Associate Vice President of Business Services Seth Weinshel, who noted that this is Thurston’s first dining hall in 20 years. “We are beyond excited to welcome students into a dining room in their own home as we provide access to high-quality, affordable food.”