SMITHFIELD, R.I. — Due to student demand, colleges and universities across the country are increasing plant-based offerings in their dining halls.
Bryant University is taking it one step further: It has partnered with Providence-based vegan food hall and marketplace Plant City to open a fast-food location in a residence hall on its Smithfield campus.
“The students want this,” said Kim Anderson, founder of Plant City, vegan drive-through Plant City X, and 345 by Plant City, a speakeasy lounge and mixology bar. “They’re really excited and taken by our mission.”
Recent studies have found that roughly 23 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds adhere to a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Bryant junior Bill Robatzek, 20, said that while he occasionally eats meat, he is trying to move away from it — and is “really looking forward” to Plant City X opening on campus.
“I’m always looking for healthy options that aren’t just salad,” said Robatzek, who is from Pembroke, Mass., and is studying leadership and innovation management. “This is an opportunity for me to continue my plant-based journey and allows the community to grow.”
Anderson, who received an honorary doctorate from Bryant in June 2022 and then became a trustee, was a guest speaker in the fall in several classes at the university, one of which was a marketing course in which students used Plant City as a case study. They learned how social enterprise and entrepreneurial solutions can help to address world problems — especially regarding the environment, she said.
“They were really into it and kept saying how they wish they had this food on campus,” said Anderson who, ever the entrepreneur, reached out to Inge-Lise Ameer, Bryant’s vice president of student affairs and dean of students, to see if there were any “opportunities” for the plant-based brand to have an on-campus presence.
As it so happened, a pizza place in Newport House, one of Bryant’s dorms, had closed during the COVID shutdown and was not planning to reopen.
A partnership was formed and Anderson’s team has spent the past several weeks putting the finishing touches on the 1,500-square-foot space, with plans to open in the next week or so.
With Plant City X already established in Warwick and in Middletown, this will be Plant City’s third fast-food location, its first dedicated to a campus community.
“This is a huge opportunity to diversify our food offerings,” Ameer said during a recent interview. “I have been hearing more and more from students how important plant-based eating is, so this is a great opportunity to introduce and educate [not only students but also] faculty and staff to vegan food.”
Plant City’s head chef Luis Jaramillo, who noted that only about 20 percent of Plant City’s customers are fully vegan, said that the restaurants’ offerings appeal to such a broad customer base in large part because many of the dishes have a similar taste and texture to their traditionally meat- and/or cheese-based counterparts.
“So if it tastes good and people know that what we do is [good] for the planet, for health, and for animals … they keep coming back,” Jaramillo said. “If you have great food, people will come.”
He said that menu items will be similar to those offered at Plant City’s other fast-food locations — including burgers, nuggets, fries, and salads — with additional items such as pizzas, wraps, and sandwiches, including a Philly cheese steak (made with seitan “corned beef,” special sauce, and sauerkraut), a BLT (shiitake bacon, lettuce, tomato, and dressing), and a chickpea “tuna” wrap. There will also be takeout and delivery options.
Bryant senior Aimee Parenteau, 21, an officer in SustainUS, a campus club that promotes sustainability and other environmental initiatives, said that adding Plant City X to the school’s dining options fits well into the club’s mission.
“Everyone I talk to is so excited,” said the Buzzards Bay, Mass., resident who is studying international business and global supply chain management and was in a marketing class that worked with Anderson and the Plant City case study. “It’s a great opportunity to allow students who are considering going plant-based, or just eating more plant-based food, to try different [foods] right here on campus.”
Confident that the Bryant University community will embrace the newest Plant City X, Anderson said she is hoping to expand to other college campuses.
“This will give us insight into what campus dining alternatives can look like,” she said. “We’re excited to fill their needs for sustainable, compassionate, and delicious food.”