Inside The Spot @ George Mason University

The Spot George Mason University Sodexo
A sampling of the George Mason University dining cuisine
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Campus Gem for Plant-Based Dining Delights, Managed by Sodexo


In the City of Fairfax, Virginia, just 20 miles from downtown Washington, D.C., George Mason University’s (Mason) campus sits on 677 wooded acres, dotted by a plethora of trees, gardens, and other natural spaces. It is home to most of the undergraduate student population, with more than 6,000 students living in 40 residence halls on campus.

Among the many amenities offered to its vibrant student community, Mason boasts four resident dining locations, each catering to a diverse range of tastes and dietary preferences. One recent addition to this culinary landscape is The Spot, a vegan and vegetarian dining hall operated by Sodexo, reflecting the evolving dietary habits of modern students. This innovative dining concept is the result of thoughtful research, with a third of Mason’s student body indicating a preference for plant-based meals at least once a week.

Sophia Nelson Sodexo Marketing Sustainability Manager George Mason University Campus
Sophia Nelson, Sodexo Marketing and Sustainability Manager, George Mason University Campus

On a chilly winter afternoon, I had the privilege of speaking with Sophia Nelson, Sodexo Marketing and Sustainability Manager, to delve deeper into Sodexo’s vision for The Spot. Amidst discussions about the vibrant array of vegetables, legumes, and fruits adorning the menu, Sophia’s passion for sustainable dining practices shone through, warming the conversation despite the icy temperatures outside.

Join me as we embark on a journey with Sophia to explore The Spot: Where Plants Power You.


Tell me more about your role as sustainability and marketing manager at Sodexo, George Mason University Campus. How do you collaborate with The Spot’s foodservice staff to integrate sustainable practices?

Starting out as a marketing manager, my passion for environmentalism naturally guided me into programming focused on sustainability and social responsibility. Over time, I’ve supported projects like our compost implementation, Earth Month programming, and innovative dining hall initiatives, particularly at The Spot. Within our Sodexo family, we collaborate closely with on-site chefs across segments, ensuring a commitment to culinary excellence at every location. It’s a journey that blends sustainability and innovation seamlessly. 

  • RATIONAL USA
  • Imperial Dade
  • Atosa USA
  • RAK Porcelain
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • Epiq Global Payment Card Settlement
  • Inline Plastics
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • McKee Foodservice Sunbelt Bakery
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Easy Ice
  • Day & Nite
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units

Can you share some insights into the menu planning process for the vegan and vegetarian dining hall? How do you ensure a diverse and satisfying array of options while maintaining nutritional balance?

Most of our menu, events, and station concept inspiration comes from our student body, just like The Spot. With active feedback channels, focus groups, and cultural groups, there is no shortage of diversity and new ideas. Students’ habits and lifestyles are directly reflected in the items we serve at each of our stations. For instance, Ethiopian and Indian cuisines are reflective of our student body but also happen to showcase many vegan and vegetarian dishes. Showing students that vegan and vegetarian foods can look, smell, and taste like meat is another way to ensure students are comfortable trying new items. We ensure all food is labeled, with branded stickers on our sneeze guards, and icons in our mobile menu app, Everyday App.   

Exploring diversity also led us to conceive our Award Winning (FM Best Concept 2023), Future 50 Foods station concept. The list of Future 50 Foods was made to diversify our food systems and student’s palates. As students started exploring more plant-forward options, we wanted to ensure the ones we were providing were also sustainable. You can find Future 50 Foods in all our resident dining halls, right near the salad bar. Marked with signage, each customer has the option to endorse foods that fuel our future. 

The Spot George Mason University Sodexo

Given the ever-increasing demand for plant-based dining options, how is Sodexo keeping the vegan menus varied, tempting, flavorful and nutritious day after day?

While cultural convenience often leans towards animal products, many of these dishes have a vegetarian equivalent or can be reimagined without a meat substitute. To address the growing demand for diverse dietary preferences, almost all stations — excluding The Spot — now offer both animal protein and a corresponding vegetarian/vegan option. This deliberate approach ensures an equitable number of choices across our eight stations, encompassing chef’s specials, grill, deli, soup, salad, pasta, pizza, dessert, and our allergen-friendly zone known as simple servings. 

Sodexo has backed the expansion of vegan and vegetarian options with a goal of having all campuses’ menus be 42% plant-based by 2025. In addition to our regular offerings, we curate weekly events such as ‘waste-less’ lunches and upscale seafood dinners, inspiring innovative and inclusive menus while providing an educational opportunity to talk about our commitments and practices. In the quarterly meeting, I and other sustainability champions meet to share best practices and engagements on our campuses, allowing us to grow one another’s work. 

Our dedication to vegan and vegetarian options has also allowed Mason to be the first for several plant-based products. Sodexo’s chefs and innovation team are always finding what’s next. Because of this, we can run focus groups and sample cutting-edge products looking to gain feedback. 

Could you elaborate on the university’s partnership with local farms for sourcing fresh produce? How does this collaboration contribute to the university’s commitment to sustainability and support for the local community?

We foster a close partnership with our Green House and Gardens, cultivating a variety of lettuce and microgreens right on campus. Our partnerships extend to local farms such as Zeponic Farms, a mere 25 miles away. Larger distributors like Keany share our commitment, sourcing all local produce within a 250-mile radius, effectively anchoring our food system closer to home. Our proactive efforts also include establishing a CSA or Crop Share with Potomac Vegetable Farms, offering fresh produce throughout the summer and fall set at student prices. Recognizing that access to fresh, sustainable food can be a financial challenge for many, Sodexo and George Mason University are actively engaged in nurturing this vital connection. These initiatives not only fortify the health of our students but also contribute to the well-being of our planet. 


For more information about The Spot at George Mason University, visit this link: https://masondining.sodexomyway.com/dining-near-me/the-spot

  • McKee Foodservice Sunbelt Bakery
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Atosa USA
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Inline Plastics
  • Easy Ice
  • RATIONAL USA
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • Day & Nite
  • Imperial Dade
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Epiq Global Payment Card Settlement
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • BelGioioso Burrata
Cherry Dumaual
Cherry Dumaual is a seasoned contributing writer for Total Food Service, bringing years of experience in culinary communications to her role. As the former Partnerships Director at The Monday Campaigns/Meatless Monday, she was responsible for spearheading the PR and partnership development for Monday initiatives, including Meatless Monday. During her tenure, she successfully forged partnerships with renowned organizations, such as C-CAP (Careers for Culinary Arts Program), the American Institute of Cancer Research, and New Jersey Healthy Kids Initiative. Prior to joining TMC, Cherry held the position of Senior Vice President at leading PR agencies, where she worked with major food and healthcare clients. Her passion for learning and cooking international cuisines has led her and her husband to explore local food markets and restaurants in over 50 countries. This firsthand experience has allowed her to gain a deep understanding of different cultures and cuisines, which she brings to her work in the food industry. Cherry earned her Communications degree cum laude from Hunter College, CUNY.
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