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Duke Dining Expands Allergen-Free Locations

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Two new venues will be free of the nine most common food allergens.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for Trinity Café and East Campus Marketplace, which received the FARECheck Gold Level certification for allergy-friendly procedures in January.
The new venues will complement the allergy-friendly offerings at Marketplace and Trinity Café, which were certified as free from tree nuts and peanuts in January. Photo by Jack Frederick for Duke Today.

As part of its mission to better serve the growing number of Duke students with food allergies, Duke Dining will open two new allergy-friendly dining venues during the fall 2023 semester.

The two self-contained venues — one on East, one on West — will be entirely free of the nine most common food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, sesame, soy, wheat, and fish. They will also be free of gluten.

The idea for allergen-free venues emerged from several focus groups that Duke Dining held with members of the student body. In recent years, a growing number of Duke students have reported severe food allergies, 63% of which can be attributed to peanuts and tree nuts. Focus group participants expressed that an allergen-free venue, where students would not have to worry about cross-contamination at all, “would be like heaven.”

It’s Thyme, the new West Campus venue, will be operated by The Picnic Basket Catering, which currently operates of Terrace Café at Duke Gardens. The Picnic Basket will also provide food for the East Campus venue.

“We strive to know the students by name and we take pride in learning each student’s dietary preferences or restrictions,” said Picnic Basket co-owner Erik Dailey. “We believe that it’s time for a top 9 allergen-free venue that offers great food for all, as well as a safe place for those with food allergies. I wholeheartedly believe that great food has the power to transcend dietary boundaries and bring people together, and I can’t wait to share our culinary creations with the Duke community.”

That sharing begins this week, as It’s Thyme hosts tasting events on the Bryan Center Plaza, this Wednesday (5/3) and Friday (5/5) from 11am-1pm. During those windows, Blue Devils can stop by to sample some of It’s Thyme’s allergen-free menu items.

Each allergen-free venue requires a self-contained infrastructure, mitigating cross-contamination from other venues nearby. The East Campus venue will open in Brown Residence Hall, occupying the space formerly used as a bookstore. It will complement the allergy-friendly offerings at Marketplace and Trinity Café, which were certified as free from tree nuts and peanuts in January.

Meanwhile, the West Campus venue will replace Panda Express, whose contract for its Bryan Center location expires at the end of this school year. Panda Express’s last day of operation in the Bryan Center will be May 5, 2023.

“We are thankful to Panda Express for their service to the Duke community,” said Robert Coffey, Executive Director of Dining. “We’ve enjoyed our partnership over the last 15 years, and we would welcome the chance to work together again. At the same time, we’re excited about the opportunity to provide completely allergen-free dining spaces for our community.”

These allergen-free dining options are the latest in Duke Dining’s comprehensive efforts to establish Duke as one of the most allergy-friendly campuses in the country. The “Ask Me” program, piloted in January 2022 and fully implemented that August, ensures that employees trained in food allergy safety are easily identifiable at every dining location and can answer questions about food allergens and dietary concerns. Duke Dining also became the first university/college dining program in the nation to receive a FARECheck Gold Certification for safe, allergy-friendly food handling at Marketplace and Trinity Café.

To select vendors to operate the new venues, students from Duke University’s Student Dining Advisory Committee (DUSDAC) and Duke Student Government (DSG) reviewed proposals alongside Duke Dining staff. Several Duke students with severe allergies also volunteered their time and expertise.

“I am so grateful that Dining included me and my fellow DUSDAC co-chairs in the RFP process. It speaks to Dining’s commitment to engaging with student interests and creating a truly unique dining experience,” said DUSDAC Co-Chair Aidan Gildea, Class of 2023.

More information about both venues, including full menus and hours of operation, will be announced later this year.