Beyond the burger: Berks campus dining gets major overhaul

Chef creating crepes

Dining at Penn State Berks has gotten a major overhaul with a variety of special new menu items, such as made-to-order crepes, hand-rolled sushi, and quesadillas.

Credit: Penn State

READING, Pa. — From hand-dipped Berkey Creamery ice cream to weekly burrito bars and surf-and-turf nights, dining at Penn State Berks has gotten a major overhaul since Jonathan Kukta became the campus' director of Housing and Food Services on July 1.

Kukta explained that he believes in the team approach, and his team has incorporated some of the dining concepts that have been successful at other Penn State campuses where he has worked. He began his Penn State career in 2002, starting in Housing and Food Services at Penn State Berks, then becoming director for the Hazleton, Schuylkill, Wilkes-Barre and Worthington–Scranton campus, before being named to his current position as director of Housing and Food Services for the Berks and Schuylkill campuses, with administrative duties at Lehigh Valley.

One of the major changes that has generated a lot of excitement on campus is the addition of hand-dipped Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream and milkshakes at the Cyber Café, located within the Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building.

While many Penn State alumni and fans of Penn State creamery ice cream would travel across the state to purchase this sweet treat at the University Park campus, they can now get their ice-cream fix at the Penn State Berks Cyber Café, which features six rotating flavors for only 99 cents a scoop. Flavors can even be combined, allowing customers to get the exact flavor combination they want.

Another addition is the recent pop-culture phenomenon from “Down Under” known as the “freakshake,” a milkshake topped with cake, syrup and candy pieces. The Cyber Café introduced its first “Freakshake Friday” — coincidentally on Oct. 13 — with the s’mores shake, a chocolate milkshake loaded with marshmallows, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chunks and toasted for the final touch. It was an overwhelming success and future “Freakshake Fridays” are in the works.

Meanwhile at Tully’s, the campus dining area, Kukta has implemented several more changes, including:

  • a revamped salad bar that features hot protein items including shrimp, salmon and flank steak, along with homemade salad dressings;
  • a fresh fruit and yogurt bar; and
  • special menu items each day of the week.

One of the most popular special menu items is the surf-and turf nights on Tuesdays. Past dinners have features filet and crab cake, prime rib and crab legs, and several other land-and-sea combinations.

Each day of the week features a different specialty menu item, in addition to the standard salad bar, hot entrées­­, deli and pizza station, and convenience foods. Monday features hand-rolled sushi; Tuesday, a quesadilla bar; Wednesday, a pasta bar; Thursday, a burrito bar; and Friday, made-to-order crepes.

Tully’s also features a vegan and vegetarian menu and several special meals devoted to the cultural cuisine of the campus' international student body, including Asian, Greek and Indian meals.

In addition to spicing up its menu, the Food Services staff is committed to providing varied — and delicious — meals for all members of the campus community. Several students have met with the staff to discuss specific food allergies, and Food Services has developed special menus to meet their needs.

Kukta tells the story of one residential student who had six of the eight major food allergies. As a residential student, he was required to purchase the meal plan. The Food Services staff met with the student and developed a special, color-coded menu to meet his unique needs. This year, the student lives off campus, but he chose to renew his meal plan because he was so impressed with Tully’s special menu.

In addition to the menu changes, Kukta has implemented other changes to the campus dining area, including selling convenience store items such as energy drinks and personal care items. He hopes to open a convenience store on campus in the future.

When asked what’s next for Food Services at Berks, Kukta said that he and his staff have several special events planned, including a street taco event, an “I love bacon” day, and a backyard barbecue. Food Services also plans to introduce new menu items at the Cyber Café, including everyone’s favorite — grilled stickies.

For additional information on Berks Housing and Food Services, contact Kukta at 610-396-6351 or via email at [email protected].