The boys in Allen Building are feeling the heat about the Refectory, which for Loyal Readers who are not in Durham is a cafeteria in the Divinity School that’s regarded as the best place to eat on campus, save the uber-expensive Washington Duke Inn. It’s also one of the busiest restaurants because of its good eats — serving approximately 800 people in its lime green dining room every morning and noon.
This restaurant, locally owned, green and practicing sustainability, is negotiating a new lease for its space, and facing a demand from Duke that it fork over a bigger slice of its gross sales in exchange for the right to operate on campus after July 1. It has a branch in the Law School with two years to go on its lease, so that’s not affected. Yet.
The Refectory has been paying 10 percent of its gross; next year, the proposed lease is for a 50 percent increase to 15 percent. The owner, Laura Hall, who has a substantial following on campus, says she simply cannot afford that.
On Tuesday, Gloria Lloyd, the Chronicle reporter who broke this story, wrote that she tried to reach the Director of Duke Dining Robert Coffee to no avail. She had to settle for e-mail comments from Rick Johnson, assistant vice president of housing and dining, and when Lloyd wanted more details, Johnson said nope.
And then there is Larry Moneta, Johnson’s boss. The Vice President for Student Life told the Chronicle it had to talk to Johnson only. In sum, not one administrator had time to speak to a representative of the university newspaper.
Haha. Overnight, did L-Mo change his tune, undoubtedly because Lloyd’s story evoked a substantial outpouring from readers.
More than one faculty member noted that Duke is finding money to subsidize many new initiatives (translation: Kunshan) while it claims it cannot “subsidize” — a Moneta characterization — a restaurant at home.
All of which prompted Moneta to write a Letter to the Editor in time for Wednesday’s edition — just in the nick of time as the Chronicle is going on hiatus for the exams and will be a weekly newspaper for several months.
Moneta led off with a claim that the restaurant management was behind “a proliferation of misinformation,” which assertion is the first refuge for any administrator caught with his pants down.
That did it. Reader after reader got upset at L-Mo, almost as upset as they’d be if they could no longer get baked oatmeal at breakfast and chicken Parmesan at lunch. Or the strawberry dessert. They railed against L-Mo, and supported the owner of the restaurant. They wanted to know too about reports that the McDonalds on West Campus doesn’t even pay 10 percent — a special deal to attract the Golden Arches. And they expressed disgust at just about every other restaurant on campus, including the Faculty Commons. The word vile appeared repeatedly.
Once again, we’re told dining is operating with a deficit — one we thought had been plugged — but since no one will give us any details about the university budget, who knows?
And Moneta raised the class warfare issue which seems to emerge so often at Duke: some students are not able to pay the higher prices demanded by the Refectory for its better food. We cannot figure out what the hell Moneta meant since the action he wants to take — upping the restaurant’s cost structure — is sure to result in even higher prices. Or lower quality.
Moneta also revealed in vague, waffling language worthy of Uncle Dick himself, that the Divinity School is pissed about the Refectory, apparently because it brings too much traffic into its confines.
So Duke and the owner of the restaurant will meet on Friday to see if they negotiate a deal. It’s unclear who will represent the Administration, but with the higher profile that this dispute rapidly attained, the big boys will probably come out. It’s also unclear how L-Mo will put into effect his warning that the interests of the Divinity people come first: “We have made it clear that changes are necessary in order to continue what should be a mutually respectful relationship with Duke.”
Here’s the Refectory’s menu for Loyal Readers not familiar. No, I have never had baked oatmeal with eggs.
We close this portion of our essay by noting that the gut renovation of the Union on West Campus will disrupt all dining for at least two years if not more. The dining halls will move into a new glass pavilion being erected in the ravine next to the Bryan Center.
This campus needs another Ted Minah.
In the late 1940′s, food got so bad — and students so vociferous — that the University felt impelled to make a formal commitment: to serve the best food on any campus in America.
The Administration robbed Ted Minah from Brown University to serve as director of dining, and he brought with him his maitre-d, Bill Jones, which is another story for another day, for Big Bill — as he was affectionately known — was black, the first of his race to supervise any employees at Duke, much less white ones like the cashiers.
So for more than a quarter century, Duke achieved its goal: not to make money, not to grow a profit center, but to provide great food.
Minah not only brought in great recipes, fresh ingredients, trained staff and high spirit, he listened. Students and faculty wanted a more formal restaurant than the cafeterias, so he created the Oak Room, with white tablecloths and, on Sundays, jackets and ties for gentlemen. He created a night-time food service with carts filled with fresh fruit and healthy beverages, as well as sandwiches and hermits, delivered right to the dorms. He created private rooms that could be reserved by people of “allied interests.”
If turkey was on the menu, the night before a hundred or more fresh birds arrived and were roasted right on campus. His salads were fresh, and local, long before they were catch words in Durham restaurants. His bread baked on premises. Like his famous blueberry pie!
Hermits! The Duke version of a brownie that any old alumnus can tell you about. So important in our heritage that we print the recipe below.
And there were little touches too. One Monday a long time ago, DukeCheck was having breakfast with a fellow law student who happened to ask why the delicious morning jelly donuts always had grape jelly. The student was advised to see Minah or Big Bill, and he did. By Thursday morning, the plates of donuts (two per serving) in the cafeteria were lined up behind three signs: grape, strawberry and lemon.
Not long after Minah retired after a quarter century of service, Duke changed its philosophy. Minah’s balanced budgets (one year he came within $250 in selling millions of dollars of food) no longer sufficed: dining was to turn a profit like other “auxiliary enterprises,” the bookstore, the laundry.
Even the memorial to Ted Minah disappeared. The Oak Room was named in his honor until it too saw is quality erode, its business disappear. The Mary Lou Williams Center occupies its space today. And least the recipe for hermits survived.