At the CSUF Gastronome, staff say they pride themselves on catering to the needs of students with restrictive diets and allergies.
“We look at them like our kids,” said Rhonda Robinson, food service director at CSUF. “We’re here for you, but we love what we do as well.”
Open seven days a week, every station at the Gastronome has gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options. The Gastronome is located next to student housing and is open to commuter students, as well as the local Fullerton community.
“You don’t have to be a (campus) resident in order to eat here. You don’t have to be a resident to get a meal plan, which allows you to get a discounted price,” Robinson said. “It’s also the convenience of not having to lose your parking spot to go off campus.”
Students with special diets/allergies are seasoned veterans when it comes to being forced to deal with a restaurant or dining hall with limited options. Ubirajara Martins, executive chef at the Gastronome, said he makes it a point to make these students feel welcome and heard.
“I want them to feel like they have a private chef,” Martins said with a wide grin. “During orientation, we met with the students at the Titan Gym and that was fantastic.”
Having worked with Martins before at USC, Robinson welcomed him into the Gastronome family when there was an opening. On the second day of orientation, the staff met with students’ parents and asked them to reach out if there is ever a special need or request that needs to be met.
“A lot of them feel bad about asking,” Martins said.
The staff’s goal is to make each student feel comfortable, not singled out for their special diets, Martins said.
In addition to orientation, Martins said they meet personally with each student with a special request to help come up with a meal plan that fits their needs. Students at orientation also broke down into focus groups and met with Martins and Robinson to talk about their comments and concerns.
“It creates a really intimate relationship that you don’t see in a lot of other accounts where students have a private chef,” said Heather De Martin, Food Service manager. “On other campuses, they don’t have that. It’s a family here.”
On a brief walk through the Gastronome, one can find dairy-free ice cream, alternating salads and a made-to-order station for students on the go.
“Each station changes at lunch and dinner every single day,” Robinson said.
In order to keep up with the demands of the students, the staff takes a look at the menu each month to see what was popular and what wasn’t to tailor for the future.
“For a lot of them, this is the first time out of their home so it is a little scary. It’s like when you go for the first time to your best friend’s house and they offer you dinner,” Martins said.