The Loop and Panda Express were both considered budget-friendly options by students. Rising on-campus food prices have been a concern since fall of 2022. The University subsequently provided supplemental food points to students receiving financial aid.
Nonetheless, students expressed worries about the affordability of on-campus dining options.
Throughout her first year at Duke, sophomore Ryan McGrory frequently chose to eat at The Loop “without worrying about spending too many food points,” especially towards the end of the semester when her food points began to run out.
Although she could get some of the same meals at other dining locations, such as a grilled cheese sandwich or french fries, McGrory noted that prices at The Loop tended to be cheaper.
However, Panda Express’ affordability was not the main reason junior Mauro Mastrapasqua chose to eat at the restaurant. Walking through BC Plaza, Mastrapasqua noted that “there was always a huge line” of students for Panda Express.
“It is comfort food,” Mastrapasqua said. He noted that he would go to Panda Express with his friend after physics tests or big runs.
McGrory felt similarly about The Loop. As a member of the Dancing Devils, Duke’s official dance team, she would frequently go for a bite at The Loop after dancing at basketball games.
“It was pretty much the only nearby restaurant that stayed open later than 9 p.m., and Pitchforks was a far walk, especially after standing for the whole game,” she said.
Upon hearing that Panda Express was closing, Mastrapasqua said he “immediately texted [his friends] and was like, ‘This is awful, we need to go get Panda right now.’”
They attempted to eat at the restaurant one last time on May 5 but were saddened to see that it closed early.
In fall 2023, a Thrive Kitchen and Catering venue will take The Loop’s place, and Panda Express will be replaced by It’s Thyme, an allergen-friendly location.
Duke received the FARECheck Gold Status for East Campus dining 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.
“On one hand, I appreciate Duke Dining’s efforts to make it easier for students with allergies to find safe food options,” said Noah Loewy, a junior with nut allergies. “However, I think removing Panda Express, one of the few cost-friendly dining options on West Campus, only a few months after the Brodhead Center eateries jacked up prices and cut down portions, is somewhat insensitive to students that are on a budget.”
According to Karina Marinovich, a junior and co-chair of the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee, DUSDAC was not part of the decisions to close Panda Express and The Loop, though it has received negative feedback from students about the dining locations’ closures.
The role of DUSDAC was to instead provide “student input into the decision of what they were going to be replaced with” as the locations’ contracts ended.
Marinovich was part of a focus group that helped choose which caterer would replace The Loop in the Bryan Center. The other members consisted of the other DUSDAC co-chairs, two other students and administrators.
Marinovich noted that the replacement of Panda Express by It’s Thyme was already “in the works,” and that the focus group did not provide input for the decision.
Marinovich remains hopeful for the future of the new Thrive location, with a new menu “similar to what The Loop was.” The location has a full liquor bar and a patio, which will be utilized in the new venue.
“I think it's a great decision because we'll be able to kind of rejuvenate that space and make it a fun gathering space like Krafthouse is,” she said.
“I totally understand why students are upset, but unfortunately it just came down to contracts,” Marinovich added.
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Michelle Brown is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.