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Duke Dining Challenge crowns the Loop the best restaurant on campus

The Loop won the Duke Dining bracket challenge Tuesday night.
The Loop won the Duke Dining bracket challenge Tuesday night.

Which spot makes the best food at Duke? That’s a question the Duke Dining Challenge, a March Madness-style bracket on the popular Facebook group “Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens,” tried to answer.

The Loop emerged victorious Tuesday night, defeating Divinity Cafe in the final round by just over 100 votes. The Loop’s employees appreciate the recognition and were following the bracket closely.  

“It makes us feel really good and appreciated,” said Morgan O’Connell, manager of the Loop. “I’ve worked here for five years now, and it was really nice to read all the comments. All the employees followed along, and everyone was really excited. We employ a lot of students who were super hyped about it.”

Over 1,000 students have voted on each head-to-head matchup, putting these competitions up there with some of the group’s most liked posts. The bracket’s popularity has even inspired spin-off brackets, including a Duke majors bracket and a bracket for merchants who take food points.  

Duke Dining is aware of the bracket.  

“Duke Dining enjoys seeing the Duke community including our venues in the March Madness fanfare,” wrote Robert Coffey, executive director of dining services, in an email Monday. “We look forward to celebrating the student body's winning choice. Keep on the lookout for how the winning venue will thank the student body for their support.”

Sophomore Will Herbst and a few friends came up with the idea.

“[We] made a list of all the places we thought should be included and seeded them,” Herbst said. “I just tried it out and people liked it so I kept posting them.”  

The bracket they made includes 32 dining sites, which represents nearly every on-campus eatery. Voting was simple: Each option had a Facebook reaction associated with it, and the eatery with the most reactions won.  

There were a few big upsets early on, with seventh-seeded Nasher Cafe defeating second-seeded Krafthouse and seventh-seeded Law School Cafe defeating second-seeded Cafe in the Brodhead Center.  

“I have no idea what the Law School Cafe is, and apparently people really like it,” Herbst said. “I was pretty surprised that Krafthouse went out so early. I love that people hate the Skillet as much as I do.”  

Many of the favorites did well, however, with all of the number-one seeds — Sazón, Divinity Cafe, Pitchforks, and The Loop — making it to the Final Four.  

One of the more notable moments in the bracket came when sixth-seeded Thrive and second-seeded Marketplace squared off in the round of 16. The post garnered over 2,000 votes and over 500 comments, and the margin of victory was razor-thin. Thrive won by two votes, though some students didn’t see it that way. Many contended that Marketplace had in fact won. These detractors even started a brief alternative bracket that deemed Marketplace the winner. However, order was restored and the competition continued with Thrive as the winner.  

Herbst maintained the legitimacy of the contest, saying, “At midnight, I took a screen recording of my refreshing the page and then checking the numbers to make sure the result would be correct.”  

As to why the Loop was so successful, O’Connell said she thought the diversity of the menu and the speed of service were important factors. 

“I think having delivery, being a Merchant on Points, really helps a lot too,” she said.

Many students were satisfied with the final result, voicing their approval in the comments section or in conversations throughout campus.  

“The Loop is a great place to eat and it clearly deserved to win based off of its milkshakes and mac and cheese bites,” said first-year Matthew Hassenwinkel.

“The strawberry milkshakes here take me for a Loop,” added first-year Manav Vakil.  

Others were less satisfied with the choice.  

“Thrive should’ve won, but not enough people go to Central,” said sophomore Pouya Mohammadi.  “Like 80 percent of [people who live on] Central advocated for Thrive”.  

“The Loop is proof that mediocre yet basic food will always win over more nuanced yet higher quality options,” said sophomore Perry Wallack.

For those who have had fun with the bracket, enjoy it while it lasts. Herbst said he isn’t planning on doing the bracket again next year, but anyone interested in making it a tradition could potentially fill his role.  

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