Panda Express to be replaced with new allergy-friendly dining locations on West Campus, East Campus

If you’re craving orange chicken from Panda Express, May 5 will be the last day to get it on campus. 

A Duke staple for 15 years, Panda Express will close its doors after the contract with Duke for its Bryan Center location expires at the end of the school year, per a release from Duke Dining. In its place will be a new dining venue called It’s Thyme, specializing in allergen-free options. 

It’s Thyme has had a presence on campus over the spring semester, occupying the Chef’s Kitchen space on the second floor of the Brodhead Center. 

The new venue will be free of the nine most-common food allergens, which are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, sesame, soy, wheat and fish, according to the release. It’s Thyme will also not serve products containing gluten.

“We are thankful to Panda Express for their service to the Duke community,” said Executive Director of Dining Robert Coffey in the release. “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.”

A new dining location, also specializing in allergen-free dining and free of the same allergens, will also open on East Campus in Brown residence hall, and will “complement the allergy-friendly offerings at Marketplace and Trinity Café,” per the release. 

Both It’s Thyme and the East Campus venue will be operated by The Picnic Basket Catering and are slated to open during the fall of 2023. The Picnic Basket Catering currently operates Terrace Café at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. 

“We believe that it’s time for a top-nine-allergen-free venue that offers great food for all, as well as a safe place for those with food allergies,” said Picnic Basket co-owner Erik Dailey in the release. “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.”

The venues require a “self-contained infrastructure,” per the release, which is meant to eliminate cross-contamination from other dining locations nearby. 

Duke Dining received FARECheck Gold Status for East Campus dining facilities in January, becoming the first university dining program in the country to do so for an entire facility. In response to feedback from students with allergies, Duke Dining also removed almond milk from its menus in September 2022. 

The plans to create allergen-friendly venues at the University involved several focus group meetings that Duke Dining held with students, per the release. The vendor selection process incorporated feedback from Duke Student Government, the University’s Student Dining Advisory Committee and Duke students with severe allergies. The release noted that a “growing number” of Duke students have reported having severe allergies in recent years, 63% of which are related to peanuts and tree nuts. 

Coffey did not immediately respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment regarding the timeline for the new East Campus location to begin operations and whether Panda Express employees would be offered positions at the new dining venues.

Adway S. Wadekar profile
Adway S. Wadekar | News Editor

Adway S. Wadekar is a Trinity junior and former news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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