July 25, 2014
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Jay Jacobs, Scott Sehnert and Patrick Smallen are cooking up something special for Auburn University's student-athletes, and that goes for anybody else who wants to eat well on campus, too.
The university is set to open its $6.5 million Wellness Kitchen designed to meet the dietary needs of its athletes, plus other students, faculty and visitors. Jacobs, the athletics director; Sehnert, the sports dietary chief; and Smallen, the chef, have been showcasing the slick 10,000-foot facility this week.
"The Wellness Kitchen," Jacobs said, "is a game-changer."
The Wellness Kitchen is another brick in Auburn's facility development, centrally located to most of the university's sports venues, and is across the street from the South Donahue Residence Hall where many athletes live.
It's also light years from the old athletic dorm, Sewell Hall.
"We wanted the gold standard for our new residence hall, and that's exactly what we got," Jacobs said. "Then, we needed a place to feed our athletes. That's the Wellness Kitchen. It is a state-of-the-art dining hall facility. Our students are going to love it."
It has everything, all healthy, including the dessert bar, and it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"It'll be great for students to meet and mingle with our student-athletes, and our student-athletes get to know our students," Jacobs said. "It's going to be a great place."
Swipe your student meal card and you're eating. Credit cards work, too.
"I see this as a win-win," Sehnert said.
Sehnert knows presentation is important. He'll have that at the Wellness Kitchen.
"The majority of our athletes are not excited about eating just for health reasons," Sehnert said. "A portion want to eat for performance. A portion want to eat because it tastes good. The plan for the Wellness Kitchen is to make sure it tastes good, so they want to eat it. It's a win for me because it's going to be healthy, and it's going to help them perform well."
Gain weight? Lose weight? Special diet? A yogurt waffle cone? Auburn's got that covered in the facility that seats 214 inside, features a meeting room and has outside seating for meals under the sun or stars. Order it the way you want it or simply choose something and go.
"So much of everything we do know is personalization, so 70-80 percent of what we do in here will be made to order," Sehnert said. "They'll be able to choose the toppings on their pizza, choose their sandwich toppings, build their burger, have the pasta the way they want it. The point of everything is they get to choose what they have.
"Whatever the goals, we'll be able to personalize meals because we're doing breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"When you're asking athletes to come in and eat in the same facility day after day, you need to make things interesting and exciting for them. If it was just an old-school buffet, it would get very tired, very quick. The variety is an important part to keep the interest and the desire to come in."
The enticement for athletes is better play.
"This is for student health and welfare," Sehnert said. "But it's also a big deal to the NCAA, it's a big deal for Jay and it wouldn't be my profession if it wasn't a big deal to me. It's going to be hard to make an unhealthy choice in here."
And it will be hard to miss it.
"This spot was thought out because it's in a great traffic pattern, coming from either weight room whether it's Olympic sports or football or from academics or the resident hall or parking. It's an easy path way. It's all about convenience," Sehnert said.
Jacobs welcomes that.
"Everything that we have now, for the majority of our sports, is all right here in our precinct," he said. "They eat here, they train here, and the dining facility is right there.
"It's interesting to talk to the parents of recruits. They talk about how convenient everything is. Academics is right across from the residence hall, the residence hall is right across from the dining facility and the training room is right here. The arena right up the street, baseball, football, softball, gymnastics, volleyball, it's all right here."
Did anybody say lunch?
"It was thought out for student-athletes, but there's a popular trend for healthy eating, and that's where we can accommodate everyone," Sehnert said. "Any person under the sun can come in and eat."