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Passion and flavor: the Lenoir Dining experience


Most kids are working to master coloring inside the lines at 6 years old. Dylan Clift, however, was making herb-encrusted French garlic bread with his 10-year-old brother.

“I’ve been doing it ever since,” said Clift, who works at Ole Miss’ student-run restaurant Lenoir Dining. “It’s something about having that night where the (orders) don’t stop coming in, (the food) is going out right, you’re working hard, you’re having a good time and at the end of the night it’s just like, ‘Wow, I did that! What’s up?’” 

With goals ranging from owning a bed and breakfast with a full-service restaurant, to planning weddings and hotel events, to holding resort and casino management positions, the hospitality management and nutrition students see each shift at Lenoir Dining bringing them one step closer to their dreams.

The owners of Proud Larry’s and Emileigh’s, as well culinary school graduates and catering business entrepreneurs, worked at Lenoir while attending Ole Miss.

The unique on-campus restaurant has been in operation since the 1960s, and it opened in its current location of Lenoir Hall on Sorority Row in 2003.

Lenoir’s bread is made fresh each day and is served with a salad, entrée and dessert for $7 for students and faculty members or $10 for the public. Thanks to Mike and Sharon Shirley of Nashville, recent renovations allowed the restaurant to acquire “a proof box, which allows us to do more styles of bread,” according to Executive Chef Lee Craven.

Craven “oversees” the nutrition and hospitality management students in the lab component of the Quantity Food Production and Service class. 

“The students hold every position in the back and front of the restaurant,” Craven said. “Somebody makes the salads or the entrees, somebody washes dishes, somebody is the manager of the day, (some students) are waiters and hosts.”

Kathy Knight, interim chair of the department, said the students learn about managing personnel, production, scheduling, financial accounting, taking orders and serving the public by working the different positions.

The formal training taught on a day-to-day basis is only part of the education for the students.

“You need to be able to work quickly, and you’ve got to really be on your toes,” hospitality student Jill Schmidt said. “I had no idea how intense it was to get the food out on time, but now I see how it all works together. That’s going to help in a management position.”

Schmidt said the students not only complete their own tasks efficiently but also cooperate effectively to make each night a success. 

This teamwork actually benefits the students as much as it does the restaurants’ operations and customers.

“You just look around, and all of your classmates are there lending a hand and that really is the stress management right there,” hospitality student Alice Blackmon said.

Craven said he hopes working at Lenoir encourages students to do things they don’t think they can do.

“The first time it could be a little awkward, but over the weeks you definitely see development of those people skills that you really need in this industry,” Blackmon said. “For three weeks, I had the same customers because they would come back and ask for me. That relationship was really rewarding for me.”

Not only is Lenoir Dining a learning experience for the students, but it is also a unique experience for its customers. 

“When you set foot in the actual dining room, you don’t really feel like you’re in a building where we have classes,” Blackmon said. “It’s a great atmosphere.” 

The menu changes every week, regularly including two salads and three entrees, as well as a Lenoir Dining favorite: the catfish po-boy sandwich and seasoned fries. 

“The students make the recipes, so it’s whatever they decide they want to do,” Craven said. “I prefer them to bring recipes from their background, like from their grandmothers or something like that.”

Clift said Lenoir Dining tests students, while also showcasing the department to the Oxford and Ole Miss community.

Reservations for Lenoir Dining are not required but are encouraged and can be made online at Lenoirdining.com or by phone at 662-915-1863.