UCCS dining director leads culinary innovation

The dining halls at UCCS offers meals for many diets. Heath Wagner, a vegan and the director of Dining Hospitality and Servicestakes, takes pride in the wide range of available food service choices.

Wagner first joined the UCCS staff in 2016 and has worked his way up from campus cook to director of all dining operations. Being the director is often a seven day work week, and

Wagner said that every day brings a new set of tasks.

The UCCS dining services operate all over campus: at the Lodge, the Roaring Fork, Cafe ‘65, Big Cat Coffee, Clyde’s Gastro Pub and Alpine Express. Wagner estimated that 80% of employees inside these establishments are students.

Each day at UCCS comes with a new menu lined up in the dining hall. There are some unique options like couscous and beets and student favorites like french fries. Dining halls also include various options of vegan meals, including dessert. Wagner works to plan protein and nutrient rich options void of animal products. “People are always like ‘oh vegan food, vegan food…’ It’s just food!” Wagner said.

Wagner doesn’t cook on campus anymore, but he is involved in the meal planning process. “I have to make sure what we’re serving is what people actually want,” he said. He makes an effort to create dining options that are good for students’ health, but also tastes good.

Those that cook in the dining halls use websites or cookbooks to create their own recipes for the meals they offer. Employees assess leftovers after meal service to judge their popularity, and adjustments to improve the options are made as needed. Wagner is proud of the culinary staff at UCCS who take ownership of their dining creations and the commitment of each chef to ensure an enjoyable dining experience.

Wagner has been focused on making the menus a little more approachable. “In the past, at least in the last year, there was a lot more food waste happening. That people didn’t want to eat what was out there. Didn’t sell that well,” he said.

Wagner also believes that sustainability is another important factor when catering for so many people. Food waste plays a huge part in environmental impact, which is why compost bins are placed in the dining halls. To combat the food waste, dining hall chefs have been trying different strategies such as integrating vegetable options into carbs, according to Wagner.

Fall 2023 was Wagner’s first semester as director of Dining Hospitality and Services at UCCS. He continues to improve the UCCS dining experience. “We’re getting there,” he said.

Wagner is always looking for feedback to improve while he continues to sort out the large amount of food options on campus. “The food speaks for itself,” he said.

Students can message Wagner at [email protected] while the dining hall looks into a new feedback system.

Vegan breakfast items at The Lodge Dining Hall. Photo by Meghan Germain.