You don’t have to be a doctor or a nutritional guru to know that there are more food allergens affecting people these days than ever before.

So when you have a business school that operates a popular restaurant and a highly capable agricultural sciences department, a food allergens project on the campus of West Virginia University makes a lot of sense.

Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, located in the WVU Mountainlair, was a gift to the College of Business and Economics by B&E alumni Michael Bodnar and Doug Van Scoy, principals in the Fresh Hospitality group that owns the Taziki’s chain. Taziki’s WVU opened in August 2010, but Bodnar recently expressed that he wanted help in developing gluten-free menus for the chain that has 20 locations in six states, including two in Morgantown.

Enter the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

“Food allergies are a growing public health concern,” said Megan Govindan, director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and teaching assistant professor of human nutrition and foods at the Davis College. “As many as 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, which may be triggered from various sources including milk, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. Managing food allergies can be difficult as cooking and cleaning practices need to be modified. Eating out can pose a challenge, as consumers often have to do a lot of detective work to identify hidden sources of allergens.”

Bodnar said his goal was simple: options.

“We’re a healthy and delicious alternative to other restaurant choices on the WVU campus, and providing this unique dining choice has been a real hit with students,” said Bodnar. “We wanted to take things a step farther and develop menu items for people with food allergies so that it’s easy for them to have great food choices when they’re eating away from home.”

Govindan identified a group of students to work with her who already have a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, and all of whom are enrolled in the ag school’s master of science in Nutrition program.

“I am excited to partner with B&E in this project to promote food allergy awareness in Morgantown, and to make Taziki’s a food allergy friendly establishment,” Govindan said. “The group will work with me to identify food allergens at Taziki’s. By thoroughly reviewing their nutrient and food database provided by Fresh Hospitality, we will identify gluten and other food allergens, including dairy and tree nuts, and expand their food allergy-conscious menu.”

“To successfully manage a food allergy, diet and lifestyle must change. Our goal is to help Taziki’s identify all food allergens in their restaurant. Even a trace amount of an allergy-causing food is enough to trigger an allergic reaction in some people.”

The food allergen findings of the Davis College will be more far-reaching than a single restaurtant. Bodnar said the research data would be used chain-wide, including restaurants in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, and, soon, North Carolina. The project may not be the last for the ag school, as Fresh Hospitality has 10 restaurant brands in all.

“It just makes good sense for us to identify these food allergens and provide menu items for people who have these allergies,” said Bodnar. “Sometimes it’s difficult for people with allergies to dine out, and our philosophy is that we want to make it easy for them.”

All net proceeds from Taziki’s WVU go to B&E’s Hospitality Management program.

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CONTACT: Patrick Gregg, WVU College of Business and Economics
patrick.gregg@mail.wvu.edu or 304.293.5131