Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Tasting Tuscaloosa: Students have trendy and healthy options


By Christina Ausley | Staff Reporter

From personalized bowls of rainbow fruit, acai and oatmeal to customized rolls of sushi right down to the sauce on the side, Tuscaloosa welcomes a variety of new businesses to feed the demanding student masses. 

Alongside Holler and Dash, Frutta Bowls, AJIAN sushi and more, the fast-casual atmosphere remains on the rise and doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon. Local businesses repeatedly encounter lines of customers out the door, returning with groups of friends and family members for the latest combination of acai with honey and coconut flakes, or biscuit topped with fried pork tenderloin and blackberry butter.

“Fast-casual is obviously the most popular segment in food service today,” said Pete Zimmer, co-owner of AJIAN sushi, alongside former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. “Our most valuable asset today seems to be time, so people don’t want to spend an hour and a half eating a meal anymore.”

Zimmer has high hopes for the rising tide of sushi, as students across the nation seek healthier farm-to-table options over greasy fast food. 

“Especially in the millennial generation, they’re very demanding of more quality food nowadays,” Zimmer said. “They want fresh; they want options; they’re healthy. The burrito has been done and overdone, pizza played its course and boomed at a $5.6 billion industry, but everyone is now looking for the next big thing that’s a healthier option, and I think sushi is it.”

Similarly, the both aesthetically and culinarily pleasing “frutta bowls” have rapidly invaded the Tuscaloosa campus as yet another fast-casual and entirely customizable food option strikes the stomachs, Instagrams and Snapchats of many college students. 

“It’s new and there’s nothing like it in Tuscaloosa,” said Tabitha Chandler, assistant manager of Frutta Bowls. “We love the fast-casual concept because it’s better than the typical drive-through, we want to be very personable and keep it family-oriented and get to know the customers; that’s the main reason we went with it.”

Frutta Bowls opened less than four months ago and has taken many sororities by storm through its healthy meal choices and catering services, which are completely customizable customer-by-customer. Serving acai, pitaya, kale and oatmeal bowls, customers can top their bowls with granola, fresh fruit, peanut butter, coconut flakes and more, drawing in new customers every day.

“The crowds have not stopped,” Chandler said. “Every day we meet someone new who wants to try our colorful, healthy, personalized and fast options, and gamedays have been insane. It just seems like Tuscaloosa does football and frutta really well—I think we’ll make a T-shirt that says that—’Football and Frutta.’”

As fast-casual, customizable food options make dining easier on students, it also eases the management process with fewer employees and quicker order-delivery time. Businesses like Holler and Dash have found extreme success as a result.

“It’s been really beneficial using this business process, especially on gamedays when we have a line out the door, wrapped around the patio nearly all day,” said Carly Wear, manager of Holler and Dash. “Everyone is so busy nowadays, students knowing you can come to a fast-casual place and get quality food on your lunch break or in between classes has helped us a lot.”

Though Holler and Dash doesn’t provide customizable biscuit combos, the chef has drawn modern healthy twists into the typical southern biscuit no one has seen before.

“Yes, we have the traditional southern fried chicken biscuit, but we also have extremely unique flavor profiles with things like kale and goat cheese and Greek yogurt,” Wear said. “With the recent health kick and demand for quality ingredient flavor combinations, it has definitely set us apart from the typical biscuit.”

As nutrition seems to make a turn for the better within southern cities like Tuscaloosa, students are pleased to finally have healthy fast food options that avoid the typical greasy drive-through. 

“It’s really great to see a turn for the better, both in fitness and food choices in the south,” said Jenna Day, a junior majoring in nursing. “Hopefully we’ll continue to see healthy pop-ups like Frutta Bowls and AJIAN sushi that encourage customizable and nutritious food which can serve almost every individual that walks in the door, as well as places like Holler and Dash that take something like a biscuit, usually covered in gravy, and turn it into something that provides servings of vegetables and protein instead.”

Whether it’s smoked salmon tucked into a roll of brown rice, or a bowl of violet acai drizzled with peanut butter, Tuscaloosa continues to make strides toward a modernized version of fast-food, and perhaps a renewed outlook on nutrition and fitness as a whole.

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