UGA’s dining halls serve up future fond memories

A new and much larger Bolton Dining Commons opened at the University of Georgia in 2014. Courtesy of UGA Dining Services
A new and much larger Bolton Dining Commons opened at the University of Georgia in 2014. Courtesy of UGA Dining Services

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Where the big Dawgs eat

Student life at the University of Georgia has changed quite a bit since I started my freshman year in Athens 50 years ago this month, but one thing hasn’t changed: College students always are hungry.

And for most college students, who start out living on campus in dormitories, meal plans for the dining halls are how they satisfy that hunger.

By the time my kids attended UGA, students had a lot more (and better) dining options than in my day, when there were just two dining halls and a student center hangout.

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Students dining in Memorial Hall Bulldog Room and Old McWhorter Residence Hall Dining Room.
The Bulldog Room featured mostly an American grill-type menu in the fall of 1970. Courtesy of University of Georgia Marketing and Communications

Credit: Walker Montgomery

Credit: Walker Montgomery

Nowadays, UGA students can visit five different dining halls (featuring multiple stations offering varied cuisines), plus more than two dozen retail dining locations, ranging from the fast-food outlets at the Tate Student Center to grab-and-go markets and snack bars located throughout campus.

Of course, thanks to the pandemic, the rules have changed a bit this fall, with takeout or Grubhub pickup replacing the usual walk-in-and-eat routine. Limited dine-in is available at some of the halls, but a reservation is required.

Both my son, Bill, and my daughter, Olivia, used meal plans during their first two years at UGA, when they lived in dorms, and Olivia even had a commuter meal plan the second half of her senior year, when she lived off campus.

University of Georgia students dine in the old Bolton Hall dining room during the 1969-70 school year. Courtesy of Hargrett Library
University of Georgia students dine in the old Bolton Hall dining room during the 1969-70 school year. Courtesy of Hargrett Library

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

As an Athens native, I was allowed to live at home, so I didn’t experience dorm life, and my only dining hall experience was during orientation the summer before freshman year, when we were fed at the old Bolton Hall. To me, the food resembled unappealing school lunchroom fare.

I could understand why students’ nickname for it was Revoltin’ Bolton.

Students of my day gave a higher rating to Snelling, with the fried chicken a favorite.

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Students dining in Memorial Hall Bulldog Room and Old McWhorter Residence Hall Dining Room.
Students could eat, study, talk, play cards and listen to music in the Bulldog Room in the fall of 1970. Courtesy of University of Georgia Marketing and Communications

Credit: Walker Montgomery

Credit: Walker Montgomery

Rick Franzman spent most of his time on North Campus, and so wasn’t aware of Snelling, which was on South Campus, until a friend dragged him there one day. He recalled it was “like the old Morrison’s and Piccadilly cafeterias, the three-rung rail to slide your tray along passed by dozens of selections of meats, sweets, veggies, manna and more, with each step along the way providing more temptation.” He soon was making the trek down to Snelling several times a week.

Steve Oney also preferred Snelling, but said he had his “best times” at Bolton when he started in the fall of 1972. His girlfriend lived in the nearby Brumby dorm and he’d meet her for breakfast there every morning. “Not only did we get to flirt over scrambled eggs, but after she left for class, I’d spend the next two hours drinking coffee and studying. I aced every course that quarter, and I owe it to Bolton, and to her.”

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The Bulldog Room, seen here in 1970, was located in Memorial Hall at the University of Georgia. Courtesy of Hargrett Library
The Bulldog Room, seen here in 1970, was located in Memorial Hall at the University of Georgia. Courtesy of Hargrett Library

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

A couple of decades later, in the late 1990s, Daniel Vasquez ate mostly at Bolton. As a freshman, he recalled, “I saw a beautiful guy working at the burrito stand and told my buddies‚ ‘Wow ... that’s going to be my husband.’ A week later, I unashamedly hit on him. ... We’ve been together ever since and officially got married in 2014.”

Joel Provano has a fond memory of Bolton that doesn’t have to do with the food or romance. When a big winter snow came, Provano recalled, “nobody had a sled, so we went over to Bolton and ‘borrowed’ some food trays, which were just big enough to sit on, and went sledding on the grass hill at Sanford Stadium. Great fun. I hope we returned the ‘sleds,’ but I wouldn’t swear to it.”

By my daughter’s time, Dining Services had wised up and “whenever winter weather threatened, they’d take away the trays.”

The Arch is both the entrance to the University of Georgia’s campus in Athens, and the symbol of the university. Courtesy of Andrew Davis Tucker / University of Georgia
The Arch is both the entrance to the University of Georgia’s campus in Athens, and the symbol of the university. Courtesy of Andrew Davis Tucker / University of Georgia

Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker

Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker

Of course, students also ate at other places, with meat-and-three restaurants downtown always a lure, while those students who joined fraternities and sororities usually had breakfast and dinner at the house.

And some dorm residents just cooked in their rooms. My future wife Leslie remembers groups of students getting together to cook in their dorm. “All you needed was a hot plate, a pot and a can opener.” A favorite was dubbed “dorm paella,” which, she said, was “a mix of whatever people had.”

Then, there were the athletes, who had their own dining hall in the athletic dorm, McWhorter Hall. “We ate like kings!” said Ed Allen, who played football for the Bulldogs in the late ’60s. “Steak on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Pork chops, baked and fried chicken, lots of good veggies and salad. … It was seven days a week, first-class.”

My brother Jonathan got invited to dine at McWhorter once as the guest of someone who worked at the athletic association. “I felt like a midget in there, because everyone was so much bigger than me,” he recalled.

The Bulldog Cafe food court at Tate Student Center features a variety of dining options. Courtesy of UGA Dining Services
The Bulldog Cafe food court at Tate Student Center features a variety of dining options. Courtesy of UGA Dining Services

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

My main dining experience at UGA was the Bulldog Room, where I’d hang out when I had an hour or two to kill between classes. In addition to grabbing a bite, you’d see students studying, playing endless games of spades and bridge, and listening to the jukebox.

The Bulldog Room had fairly limited American grill-type fare, but Leslie has fond memories of the sauce on the burgers, which was “like a less sophisticated version of the sauce on a Big Mac.”

Today’s Bulldog Cafe at the Tate Center has more options, and lots more room, but lacks the ambiance of the old Bulldog Room, which, in my day, saw probably the most diverse gathering of students on campus.

Special cupcakes decorated for Homecoming 2013 were offered to students dining at the University of Georgia’s Snelling Hall. Courtesy of Olivia King
Special cupcakes decorated for Homecoming 2013 were offered to students dining at the University of Georgia’s Snelling Hall. Courtesy of Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Of course, back in the ’70s, UGA’s dining hall fare generally was not all that healthy. “I remember it being a lot of comfort foods and high carbs,” Malinda Teasley Erwin said. And Gayle Peeples recalls they served “mostly starch. None of this artisanal/organic/grown-on-campus fare they have now!”

Indeed, the dining hall food my kids encountered was much more varied. You could eat healthy foods, indulge in the likes of a Philly cheesesteak (one of the most popular items at Snelling), or split the difference, as when my daughter would be at the East Campus Village dining hall and a typical meal might be a grilled cheese and curly fries (“they were the best!”) with a fruit smoothie and steamed broccoli.

A meal of grilled cheese, broccoli, curly fries and a fruit smoothie was enjoyed by writer Bill King's daughter at the Village Summit dining hall, spring semester 2016. Courtesy of Olivia King
A meal of grilled cheese, broccoli, curly fries and a fruit smoothie was enjoyed by writer Bill King's daughter at the Village Summit dining hall, spring semester 2016. Courtesy of Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

My kids agree that the food generally was delicious, and a good value. You paid a flat fee for the semester, my son recalled, and got all you could eat.

Still, while the meal plan was unlimited, “the only thing they didn’t allow was for you to take food out,” my son said. “You could walk out with a piece of fruit, but some folks would bring in the Tupperware and try to smuggle food out in their backpacks. They had people watching for that, and it made them very unhappy.”

Overall, my son said, “it was a pretty good meal plan. They put good effort into the food.”

Sravanthi Meka, who went to UGA in the late 1990s and liked the food a lot more than at Georgia Tech, where she later worked for five years, said the difference is that UGA’s dining service is self-operated, while Tech used a vendor. That meant “a lot of temp staff that are employees of the vendor, whereas self-op are university employees, so you tend to have … more connection to the students and campus itself.”

Students dining in Memorial Hall Bulldog Room and Old McWhorter Residence Hall Dining Room.
University of Georgia students relax in the Bulldog Room in Memorial Hall in the fall of 1970. Courtesy of University of Georgia Marketing and Communications

Credit: Walker Montgomery

Credit: Walker Montgomery

By the time my kids were there, the dining halls also were one of the few places where regular students got to interact with the campus celebrities, aka football players, my son said, since that was before the NCAA decided to allow athletic programs to offer “training tables” again.

One day, during the summer of 2013, my daughter was sitting at a table by herself eating Snelling’s fried chicken when future NFL star Todd Gurley walked up with a couple of teammates and asked if they could join her. “They all had fried chicken on their plates, too,” she said. My daughter was amused that a trainer came over, bringing them some veggies to improve the nutritional value of their meal.

During Olivia’s time at UGA, she ate at all the dining halls, but her overall favorite was Snelling, where the cashier up front, Miss Sandra, doled out hugs.

Olivia also loved the theme dinners, like a Hawaiian luau, a carnival (where you could get caricatures done and they had a balloon artist) or Taste of Home night, when recipes entered by students’ parents were in competition.

And then there was “Snellebrating,” the term of endearment for the early hours after midnight when Snelling, the only 24-hour dining hall, put out breakfast foods. “The late-night crowd was always interesting,” Olivia said. “You’d get spontaneous karaoke, and the workers would dance to the music, like at Johnny Rockets.”

Shortly before Olivia King graduated from UGA in the spring of 2016, she visited Snelling Dining Commons with her dad, writer Bill King. Courtesy of Olivia King
Shortly before Olivia King graduated from UGA in the spring of 2016, she visited Snelling Dining Commons with her dad, writer Bill King. Courtesy of Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

Credit: Olivia King

With Livvy’s time at UGA growing short in the spring of 2016, I made a special weekday trip over to Athens to have lunch with her at Snelling. It was great. I wound up also getting a hug from Miss Sandra, and, after a delicious lunch, we strolled to the nearby UGA Creamery for an ice cream treat.

I was surprised to find that we were served Mayfield at the Creamery. It turns out that the on-campus dairy that used to make UGA’s own ice cream and milk closed years ago.

No matter, even if it wasn’t ice cream made on campus, it still was a fine way to spend an afternoon with my daughter.

Sitting there, at a picnic table under the trees in front of the Creamery, watching students walk by on a glorious spring day, I think I fell in love with the Athens campus just a little bit more … as if that were even possible!

Read more stories of UGA campus dining through the years at Bill King’s Quick Cuts blog, https://billkingquickcuts.wordpress.com/2020/09/03/where-the-big-dawgs-eat-fond-memories. He can be reached at junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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