Since the start of the semester, SUNY Oneonta students have been able to enjoy authentic Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Korean and other cuisines at Mills Hall’s dining hall. 

“The design touches, the cooking and the aromas of food — they all breathe new life,” said Rebecca Molloy, operations director of dining services at SUNY Oneonta in a media release from In Toone Communication about the campus addition. “Students are greeted with steaming pots of broths, sumptuous toppings, sizzling and crackling hot woks and an enticing display of savory specials of the day.”

SUNY Oneonta’s Lemon Grass Kitchen location is the first of the nationwide restaurants to open in a Sodexo-managed campus dining operation.

“The students can come in and eat whatever they want,” Jimmy Hamm, SUNY Oneonta dining services general manager said. “It’s through their meal plan, so there’s no additional cost. It really gives them an added value to the meal plan.”

The first Lemon Grass Kitchen was created by Mai Pham, which soon became well-known nationally after its popularity in Sacramento, according to Lemon Grass Kitchen’s website.

Pham has visited the SUNY Oneonta campus twice in the last 15 or so years, Hamm said.

She was invited to SUNY Oneonta as part of its celebrity chef program, where acclaimed chefs present their cuisine to students at dining halls.

Hamm said SUNY Oneonta wanted to expand its food offerings with Thai and Vietnamese food, so dining services contracted with Pham to bring Lemon Grass Kitchen to campus. He said feedback from resident dining surveys indicated that students wanted something different as well. 

“We’re really fortunate to be partnering with the visionary team at Oneonta,” Pham said in the media release. “From noodle soups that we make in front of students, to the customizable rice bowls with Thai BBQ chicken, Korean beef, or lemongrass tofu, our food is crave-worthy, healthy and authentic.”  

Since then, he said, there’s been an increase in students coming to Mills Hall’s dining hall, especially in the beginning of the semester. He said the rice bowls are especially popular with students, but orders of hot, comforting Vietnamese pho, a noodle soup, are picking up especially as the chill of winter sets in. 

Gordon Beck, a junior music industry major at SUNY Oneonta, sat down to the Mongolian beef rice bowl special Monday night at Mills Dining Hall. Living in Hays Hall, Lemon Grass Kitchen is conveniently located for him and usually doesn’t disappoint, he said. 

Hamm said that as part of the celebrity chef program, the chefs come back twice a year, and Pham will likely be back on campus in January to meet with students.

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.

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