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The Banyan Dining Hall, a mix of memories, culture and modernity, is having its grand opening after eight years of preparation

Looking down at the ground floor of the new Banyan Dining Hall at BYU-Hawaii. There are tables and chairs in a circular pattern,
After eight years of planning, the new Banyan Dining Hall was built combining the history of the campus, Hawaiian culture and modern design.

After eight years of preparation and construction, the Banyan Dining Hall is a combination of community memories, Hawaiian culture and BYU–Hawaii’s diversity in a modern setting.

“We tried as much as we can to bring freshness, ambiance and a welcoming feeling to make it home away from home for all,” said David Keala, the director of Food Services working at BYUH for the past 20 years.

He explained building the dining hall involved many contributors, including architects, engineers, construction people and food consultants.

“One of the highlights for this university is this beautiful dining facility that will serve so many people… and that was the goal,” said Keala.

BYU-Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe and Academics Vice President Isaiah Walker stand wearing aloha shirts and holding plates of food.
BYU-Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe and Academics Vice President Isaiah Walker share a meal at the Banyan Dining Hall.

Keala said the salad station in the Banyan Dining Hall used to be the location of a banyan tree. “Pretty much every Sunday or every night after nine o’clock, people would go and cook and share food,” said Marilou Lee about the old banyan tree. Lee is a club manager at Food Services from the Philippines and a BYUH alumna who has worked on campus for 25 years.

President Galeai, the executive chef of the dining hall, explained the banyan tree was located right outside the old cafeteria. People used the barbeques that were located under the large tree, he said, and clubs would rent the spot to have activities. He shared the tree had a lot of memories for people in the community and students on campus.

Lee said she and her friends used to gather on Sunday to grab a sack lunch from the cafeteria and sit under the banyan tree, talking stories and eating dinner. She said people could hardly find room to sit on the benches and most of them had to sit down on the grass.

Keala said customers can see the pieces of the banyan tree on some of the tables in the dining area.

Lee explained the name “Banyan Dining Hall” through the naming contest. Many people voted for this name, so it was sent to the President’s Council for approval and became the official name of the dining hall.

Dining hall employees work in the bakery section of the new facility.
Dining hall employees work in the bakery section of the new facility.

Freshness, visibility and natural lighting

Keala shared that he and other groups of people spent time researching and gathering data to build the modern facility. He said they visited schools from the East Coast to the West Coast and Canada, meeting directors, presidents, vice presidents and student services of universities.

Keala said the critical elements of designing this building were freshness, visibility and natural lighting.

He explained they intentionally located the salad bar near the main entrance to help customers view freshness as they enter the building. Because the grill station, carving station, and the bakery area are all relatively open, Keala said customers can see how their food is prepared, made and served from taller seats at dining bars on opposite ends of the cooking stations.

“The concept was the cooking area into the dining room,” said Keala. He said they wanted to help customers of the dining hall see, smell and feel the experience of eating in the building. He shared they also worked to provide variety in seating, including outdoor seating with views of Laie, booths, four-seater tables and two-seater tables.

Keala discussed the different sizes of windows and how they allow natural light to fill the dining hall. The large windows throughout the building create an open, lighted ambiance, he explained.

The focal point, Keala said, was that as people enter from the main entrance, they would see a beautiful silver facility and cooks making dishes in front of them.

The walls of the dining hall depict scenes of Hawaii.
The Banyan Dining Hall has motifs of Hawaii in its decoration.

Depicting Hawaii and diversity

Keala explained the blue screens on top of the seats on the main floor represent ocean waves, and the curves of the middle dining area represent Maui’s fishhook from native Hawaiian mythology. He explained they wanted the main dining seating to be curved, unlike what he and his committee saw from many campus dining facilities that had straight L-shaped table seating.

Over at the dining hall’s lava station, a large wood stone oven cooks pizza, chicken, pasta and desserts. Keala said the warmth of the oven and the red lamps next to it represent a volcano, while the mural of the Kona Coast on the Hawaii’s Big Island depicts the view from one of the local volcanos.

The local station also provides local foods such as loco moco with mac salad, said Keala, and the world station cooks international dishes such as Thai chicken curry. “Ethnicity was important for us,” he said.

Keala said local and international foods, lava-inspired decorations and wave motifs were brought together to represent Hawaii.

“All the students and employees [as part of a whole new generation] are blessed to work at this brand-new facility,” said Galeai,

With the current low staffing problem, Lee shared she wants to hire 30 more employees at Food Services to manage the dining hall efficiently. She said those who are social and hard-working would love joining the Banyan Dining Hall team.