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UMass unveils new meals on wheels

Hungry University of Massachusetts students now have a new source to quench their late-night munchies.
UMass Dining has rolled out its first-ever mobile food service truck, offering quality food at convenient hours for students on-the-run and in search of a quick meal.

Maria Uminkski/Collegian

Maria Uminkski/Collegian

The food truck – named Baby Berk after the Berkshire Dining Commons through a Facebook contest in June – features an 18-foot kitchen, fully decked out with a gas oven, gas griddle, steam table, cold table, two fryers, and an upright refrigerator and freezer, among many other essential items that will help serve fresh food to campus.

Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Services, said he believed there was a strong need on campus for a mobile food service, and noted that Baby Berk’s debut has him excited.

“This will be the first food truck roll-out in a big way,” said Toong.

“During the noon hours, students are starved, they are busy, and they tend to eat on the run. [The food truck] will be convenient. It will go to different locations at different times for what the customer needs.”

Although a specific menu isn’t set in stone yet, students can expect to have a selection of different types of burgers, including vegetarian options, as well as french fries, a variety of drinks and even clam chowder to choose from at first, all at affordable prices.

With affordable pricing in the forecast, and Executive Chef Willie Sng continuing to put the final touches on a lineup of food selections, Toong said he expects a strong student reception as Baby Berk shifts into drive this month.

“It’s going to be so good that students will be coming back to buy more,” said Toong. “The individual items are all under $5. We need to work out the prices, but it’s very affordable, because we want students to buy. They will accept UCards [and] they will accept credit cards.

“The whole idea is after two months, we can change the menu again,” said Toong. “We want to keep the food simple, make sure it’s good, make sure we provide fast service, and also provide good value, to make sure the students don’t pay too much for it. We want to make them come back for more.”

A route is yet to be determined for the truck, but Toong is hopeful that students can assist in suggesting destinations via Twitter and other social networking tools to create hot spots where the truck will regularly visit.

Although the name of the truck may suggest that the truck will mostly patrol the Southwest Residential Area, the truck will be making regular visits to other residential districts and popular gathering areas.

Pending early going success of Baby Berk, additional trucks will be purchased in an effort to feed more people more often.

“We’re also looking to build community,” said Toong. “Wherever the truck is parked, there will be a whole line of customers. It’s a good way to build community with good food, not very expensive, and have nice conversation.

“I think it’s another piece of the dining experience which I think will help us to continue to build a community for this great university.”

Baby Berk is slated to be in operation seven days a week. During the weekdays, students can expect to look out for the truck from around noon to midnight, and from about 5 p.m. to the early morning hours during the weekend.

The truck won’t be hard to spot, as it has been given a vibrant, multi-colored paint job with “Baby Berk” painted boldly on both sides, and will roll through the UMass streets with music blaring from its speakers similar to that of a neighborhood ice cream truck.
“You will smile when you look at the truck,” said Toong. “It’s trendy, it’s cool, it’s very exciting. We’ll put the music on, people will smell the food, we’ll have four students working in the truck – two of them cooking, two of them serving – and the students will have fun. I think the students will love it.”

Baby Berk was planned to be unveiled at the annual UMass Welcome Back Barbeque at the Fine Arts Center Plaza yesterday as part of a historical day for UMass Dining in which the organization planned to break another world record.

A year removed from setting the record for building the longest California roll in the world, UMass Dining planned to break the record for the heaviest stir fry in the world this year, which had been set at 2,319 pounds by a high school from South Africa in 2005.

“We expect to set a world record of about 3,000 pounds,” said Toong. “The reason we’re doing that is because we want to set a tone to promote stability and grace and also happy eating, because it’s good tasting and good for students as well.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at shewitt@student.umass.edu.

 

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