By 11:50 a.m. on Wednesdays, a line of hungry visitors snakes through the hall, up the stairs and out the door of The Crossing Campus Ministry on University Ave. On the menu this week: homemade sheet pan pizza, kale caesar salad and old-fashioned apple cobbler — all for just $8 a plate.
Welcome to Slow Food UW, a student-run nonprofit organization committed to providing good, clean and fair food to the Madison community.
Founded in 2007 as a small-scale way of bringing local Wisconsin crops to campus, Slow Food has grown into a bustling food hall with a team of over 50 student employees, from chefs to cashiers to interns and everything in between.
“We just love making everyone happy with our food,” said Graham Stigler, Slow Food co-director.
Slow Food welcomes hundreds of guests into The Crossing every week for their “Family Dinner Nights” on Mondays and their cafe lunches on Wednesdays. Looking to foster a community around their food, they set up their dining hall with dozens of connected tables, encouraging their guests to make new friends while eating.
On Monday, Oct. 23, the organization served 116 smiling customers during family dinner, their biggest crowd this semester.
“It’s really fun to see people meet someone new because they happened to sit next to each other at our family dinner,” Stigler said.
The kitchen staff, a team of five to 10, create unique and “trendy” menus each week based on the produce shipments they receive from local farms. Supplemental ingredients are sourced from Willy Street Co-op, a natural foods cooperative local to Madison. Once the week’s recipe list is finalized, the team starts preparation on Sundays and Tuesdays, 24 hours before meal service.
According to Celeste Kim, co-director and a previous cafe director, working in the kitchen is one of the best parts of being involved with Slow Food. Kim and the rest of the kitchen staff see it as a creative outlet, often workshopping recipes together or coming up with menu items on the fly.
“There is something special about being in that kitchen,” Kim said. “Cooking with your friends, listening to music and bonding over the food; it’s just magical.”
Slow Food explores several cuisines each week. Recently, lunch and dinner guests enjoyed Kenyan-inspired stew and flatbread, butternut squash soup and fresh-baked soft pretzels. For Halloween week, Slow Food served “spooky” cauliflower wings on Monday and vodka pasta on Wednesday.
The food is the star of the show for new diners and onlookers. But the community is the main appeal for repeat guests.
“Seeing the happy environment this cultivates always leaves an impact on me,” Kim said. “I come here every week just to be able to see that.”
Despite being located in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Slow Food likes to emphasize their doors — and its community — are open to anyone.
“If you ever get the chance to grab dinner at Slow Food, you know how amazing the people are,” said UW-Madison senior and fundraising intern Megan Keefe. “Being able to get to know your peers and eat an awesome meal is what makes Slow Food what it is, a place for everyone.”
Ultimately, the organization looks to combat food insecurity and inequality in the Madison area, an issue they say often goes unrecognized. Slow Food supports local and sustainable food production, collaborating with other student-run organizations and advancing Madison-area social justice efforts.
All meals, whether you just get a side dish or the “works,” are under $10, and the organization has a “no questions asked” policy when it comes to affordability concerns. They believe nourishing, delicious food should be available to everyone.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Kim said. “If you’re hungry, you need to eat. We’re here to provide that for you.”
Slow Food hosts its family dinners at The Crossing every Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and their cafe lunches every Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. All are welcome, no matter the circumstances.