When Maddie Pickett reached out to Dining Services proposing the implementation of a plant-based café last October, she never imagined the tenacity with which they would take on the project. A fifth-semester biomedical engineering major and food science minor, Pickett aims to eventually research the development of alternative proteins, and founding CrossRoads, UConn’s newest café, is a strong start.
Situated on the main floor of Wilbur Cross, CrossRoads opened on Aug. 30 with the vision of offering students “healthy, wholesome cuisine that nourishes the body, feeds the soul and helps the planet.” Although UConn Dining Services is renowned for its sustainable practices – in 2020 they were recognized as a Green Campus Leader by the Sierra Club – there’s never before been a café with such accessible plant-forward options.
Pickett emailed Dining Services, “determined to not only open up more opportunities for everyone in the UConn community to try plant-based products, but also to spread awareness and knowledge on how and why it is important.”
After Pickett’s suggestion, Dining Services promptly sent out a student-body interest survey, and Rob Landolphi, the associate director of culinary development, worked to bring Pickett’s menu to life. The team held student tastings and remodeled what was formerly Wilbur’s Café over the summer. Even furniture was recycled, encouraging sustainability beyond plant-based diets.
With the expertise of Pickett’s friend Jared Beltz, a fifth-semester digital media and design major, a logo and color palette was created, drawing upon earthy tones.
“Seeing everything come together after almost a year of collaboration is a feeling I will never forget,” Pickett said.
But she didn’t stop there. Pickett also created the CrossRoads Events Management Committee, a new student organization that will collaborate with the café and host events on topics like alternative proteins and sustainable agriculture.
“I felt establishing a group like this was necessary since knowledge is an incredibly powerful tool to increase efforts for our personal health and the health of our planet,” Pickett said.
Visiting CrossRoads for the first time, I was drawn into the café’s welcoming atmosphere. It has a homier feel than most other cafés on campus, and it was clear from the lengthy line that it is a big hit amongst students. The CrossRoads menu offers a large variety not typically seen when it comes to plant-based options. Complete with gluten-free options, stunning pastries and a sandwich menu that changes weekly, there’s always something new to stumble upon. And as someone who has never actively sought out plant-based options, I was pleasantly surprised by the filling portions and amazing taste.
After incorporating plant-based cuisine into her life, Pickett saw noticeable improvements in both mental and physical health, not to mention the profoundly positive environmental impact. Founding CrossRoads gives students an opportunity they may not get elsewhere to see, taste and actively be a part of change. As Pickett asserts, it’s okay to start small when it comes to pursuing sustainability.
“Even one ‘Meatless Monday’ a week is a great way to start for anyone intrigued by plant-based eating,” she encourages.
Whether or not you follow a plant-based diet, CrossRoads is the perfect spot for a quick meal or study session. If you’re interested in UConn’s strides towards sustainability, check out the CrossRoads Instagram for updates and menu offerings.