Food and eating are tightly intertwined with the BYU experience.
You may know the little pizza restaurant just south of BYU campus as Brick Oven, but when I was a teenager back in the ’70s, it was Heaps of Pizza. Opened by Kent Heaps in 1956, it was one of the first pizza parlors to come to Provo, with good food and an even better ambiance. There wasn’t a Friday night you wouldn’t find my friends and me packed into one of the vinyl booths, laughing and talking until closing time. I loved the restaurant—and the competitions we’d have trying to out-eat each other—so much that I was bestowed the nickname “Heaps” throughout my youth.
Few things in this world define and connect us quite like food does. Seeing a certain familiar restaurant can flood us with memories, bridging the time and miles between us and family and old friends. Walking past Brick Oven does that for me. And the taste, or even just the aroma, of a special meal your mother used to make can, à la the famous Ratatouille scene, melt away the stress and gently bind up the bruised knees and scraped elbows of adult life.
Food, it seems, is never just food. Eating is an experience. Although they evolve, the ways we grow, distribute, prepare, and consume food are deeply embedded in traditions and preserved by culture. Generation after generation, preparing and eating food has been a way to connect with the people we love.
When, as the managing director of BYU Dining Services, I walk into a BYU restaurant, the first thing that catches my eye isn’t the food.
It’s the elderly couple sharing ice cream at the Creamery, just as they have every Saturday night for decades. It’s the two tables pushed together in the Cougareat to accommodate generations of the family gathered around them. It’s the group of friends laughing in the corner of the Blue Line Deli, not realizing how short their time together will feel 20 years down the road.
If we were to ask each generation of BYU grads about their formative experiences on campus, how many of their memories would be tied up with food and their favorite campus eateries? Would they reminisce about frequenting past BYU restaurants like the Joseph Smith Building cafeteria, cooking ambitious dinners in their Heritage Halls kitchen, flirting with other freshmen in Cannon Center cafeteria lines, and enjoying Navajo tacos in the Cougareat? What role would we find that Dining Services played in creating an environment of learning, growth, friendship, and meaning? I suspect we’d find that food was at the center of our connection to others and a key ingredient of our BYU experience.
Brent Craig is the managing director of BYU Dining Services.
CHIME IN: What favorite on-campus eatery sparks your memories? What is it about that place that both defines and connects you with others? Share your comments via Twitter while tagging @byudining and @ymagazine_byu.