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K&W Cafeteria

  • d

I was finally prevailed upon to try K&W Cafeteria, a institution in Chapel Hill and apparently across the South these days. Let me say I thought it was one of the worst meals of my life: heat-lamp-dried cafeteria food at its worst, reminiscent of public school lunch. What alarms me and saddens me is that the place is so popular. Time was that lower-income people had their bakeries, their butchers, their local BBQ shack or fish house or deli or pizza joint or diner, and they probably did pretty well for themselves. Now they gravitate to places like K&W, which are peddling nothing more than large quantities of cheap fat. Is there a problem here? Is there a solution to the problem? I don't know.

David A.

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  1. People have different tastes in food and different reasons for eating. A friend of my wife said some chicken "helper" product was really good, so my wife bought a box. That was the most gawd awful thing I have ever tasted, but the friend really likes it. I think some people view food as something you gotta do a couple of times a day and quick and easy is most important to them. It probably doesn't bother them to buy fish at Food Lion. Others get great enjoyment out of food and seek out places that sell high quality products.

    The best chance of getting food that hasn't been dried out by the heat lamps at cafeterias or buffets is to go when they first open or when there is a long line. Going early would probably be the best advice.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bob

      May I beg to differ, K&W is certainly not gourmet but not in the class with buffets esp. Golden Corral where all food tastes the same...bad. Where else can you have fresh fruit salad, veggie plate and then the fantastic german chocolate pie. The sweet tea is just right. The price fantastic. Try the K&S in Cary, I bet you have a better experience. Some days you want just plain food. Beans greens and cornbread.

    2. http://msnbc.com/news/992692.asp?0cv=...

      I know these reports are naturally inclined to the sensational, but this falls in line with the all-you-can-eat buffet problem. This country has little sense of quality food, or the poignancy of sharing a meal with friends and loved ones. The obesity problem is one more example of the American culture of greed, and the giant sized portions of food fit right in with that. At my last job I overheard two women talking about taking their kids to eat at Golden Corral around 10 in the morning, so they can eat breakfast, then stall for an hour, and eat lunch on the same tab.

      Food in America is so cheap, and it's also poorly produced in mass quantities.

      My personal suggestion would be to avoid buffets and fast food joints. Works for me :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: heids

        That story reminds me of the time I was in a pizza chain restaurant during the lunch buffet and saw two grown women with a huge pile of pizza crusts in front of them. After watching them for a few minutes, I realized that they were doing was just eating the cheese and meat toppings and throwing away the crust. That was so offensive to me on so many levels... Grown women, probably in their 30's, not immature teenagers. Pure gluttony and wastefulness. Oh and this was say 8 or 10 years ago, before Atkins was all the rage, so no pass there!

      2. Years ago when I was a UNC medical student, a trip to K&W was a weekly treat, and a break from the macaroni and cheese/beenie-weenie which were the other staples of my diet ($5/day was my food budget). It seemed pretty good back then (mid 1980's), and was very popular. What do the rest of you starving UNC students think?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Dino

          Yup, did the starving grad student thing at K&W myself. If it has the word "cafeteria" in the title it's probably a safe bet that it's not gonna be gourmet food. It is what it is, a place to eat decent food fast and cheap.

        2. I usually use the 10% rule in most things and it applys here...the K&W is in the 10% of crap of the restaurant industry....but hey let those throngs of people have at their buffets and bring all their friends and kids...we dont need them at our favorite places now do we?

          1. I still like to visit cafeterias from time to time when visiting down south. For me, the draw is not the food but the warm remembrance of gathering with several generations of family after church on Sundays at the loacl S&S.

            There's a certain comfort in that food from my childhood experiences that leads me to step in the doors from time to time. It's probably the same reason that my heart sank when I learned that the local Chines American that I ate at as a kid had gone out of business.

            It wasn't the food that was important. Instead, it was the important developmental aspects of my life that had taken place around the tables of those places.

            1. "Is there a problem here? Is there a solution to the problem? I don't know."

              My take on it is that it's only a problem when some few try to make the rest try to adhere to their standards of what's good. I'm not trying to pick a fight with you, but your tone sounds very elitist and condescending.

              I have pleasant memories of cafeteria meals shared with loved ones at Britling's, in Memphis. The food was good, but more important than the food was the conversation around that table. Yep, as a child, eating at the cafeteria with relatives was a treat right up there with telling Santa what I wanted for Christmas!

              1. I have never eaten at the K&W Cafeteria in Chapel Hill, but I have had some nice meals at the one in Kannapolis, NC. However, I have never had any cheap fat there.

                I never saw any lower-income people there like you say. All I ever saw was regular Southern folk – black and white.

                The solution to the problem: you can move back to New York and spare the South your elitism.

                12 Replies
                1. re: GT-ACC man

                  I've eaten at K&W many times. I've had chicken pie, veal parmesian, green beans, salad, etc., but have yet to ever see a bowl of "cheap fat" anywhere on the premises. Here in the South, most of us like our food to have FLAVOR, so we have a tendency to SEASON said food. Perhaps your palate is not attuned to the flavor of southern cooking.

                  As for K&W clientele, my son, (a tax attorney), my daughter, (a pediatrician), and me (a retired banker), meet for lunch at K&W nearly every week. We enjoy the food, and the company. I don't make it a point to look around at the other diners and try to assess their income level, but I certainly wouldn't label them as "low income." No offense meant to anyone, but food snobbery is not a very attractive trait.

                  1. re: Sizzle

                    Was was my inference that K&W to a large extent caters to a "lower-income" clientelle out of order? It seems a reasonable inference given the cheapness of the food (our bill was $20 for three) and the general feel and look of the place. Compare it to the Southern Season restaurant right next door and I think you'll take my point.

                    I DO think there is a social problem involved in the eating habits of people of "lower-income." As has been noted time and again by researchers, obesity and income are inversely correlated (i.e. the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be fat, with all the health problems that attend being fat).

                    I don't think I can reasonably be accused of food snobbery (i.e. equating quality with a kind of chic upper-class appeal; see my above post on Penang). I count pizza as my very favorite food. But I DO NOT adore crappy mass-produced versions of the same. My critique of K&W is precisely this: the food sucks. What else would you say about a piece of turkey upon which the gravy had congealed into a kind of soft shell? What else would you say about macaroni and cheese baked until it's mush and swimming in an half-inch of greese? I am not attacking Southern food, which I like as much as the next guy, but crappy, conveyor-belt Southern food.

                    I criticize "K&W" just as a criticize McDonalds or any other purveyor that has removed the element of craft from the preparation of food. It should come as no surprise, then, that Allen and Sons is my favorite restaurant in Chapel Hill. It represents this kind of craft and attention to the ultimate extent.

                    I hope all of this clarifies my attitude.

                    David A.

                    1. re: David A.

                      David, thanks for launching an interesting discussion. I live in Atlanta, so can't speak to the K&S issue specifically, but I DO have an opinion on cafeteria food: it is usually no good in "chain" places where they rely on a significant number of prepackaged items (cake mix, cornbread mix, canned fruits & veg, pre-frozen fish etc) but usually very good in very smallscale places. The best cafeteria food I've had in the past 5 yrs in Atlanta, believe it or not, came from the employee dining room at the top of the 41-story state office building on Peachtree St. Though it certainly had its share of grease, the food was prepared on premises and consistently from fresh ingredients. Plenty of pot likker came with the greens, for sopping up with corn bread, and their blackeyed peas were seasoned just so with plenty of ham hock. Second best I've had comes from the employee cafeteria at my new office in Alpharetta--they make their huge pans of banana pudding, for example, on site, with real Nilla wafers, hand-mixed custard, and a cloud of meringue. Even won a regional banana pudding contest recently when entered blind--though I doubt they'd ever have won if the judges had known the source!

                      1. re: butterisbetter

                        I grew up on the K&W and still love their pintos, their pies are homemade, and the yeast rolls are a favorite.
                        There is a southern food joint in the Atlanta airport. I really enjoyed my meal there.

                      2. re: David A.

                        Gee. I was a lot skinnier in grad school eating at K&W than I am now eating at Manhattan's finest. Needless to say my income is at least a gazillion times better now. Guess I am an exception to the rule. BTW I would still gladly eat at K&W.

                        1. re: David A.

                          "I criticize "K&W" just as a criticize McDonalds or any other purveyor that has removed the element of craft from the preparation of food."

                          I 2 hate it when some purvert removes that element of Kraft from my vittles, 'specially Miracle Whip.

                          1. re: David A.

                            I'm from Myrtle Beach and we have 3 K&W's here.
                            One sucks. One is VERY good, and one is passable.
                            It all depends on the cooks and the manager, I think.

                            And you don't see many lower income people in ours...what you DO see is seniors and families with several kids that can't afford 4 people eating at $20 a pop. I tend to eat at K&W the day before payday...LOL.

                            And in the summer when it's extremely busy and the food is going as fast as it's cooked, it's very fresh.
                            So it also depends on the time of the day and even the time of the year as to whether it's worse or better.
                            As far as less expensive restaurants down here, it's the only one that's very good at all. That being said, I try real hard not to eat in cheap restaurants.
                            If I'm going to do that I'll go to McDonalds.


                            Link: http://www.myrtlebeachrestaurants.net

                            1. re: Jan

                              be in MB in 3 weeks. Which one of the K & W's is the good one??
                              Thanx for reply.

                          2. re: Sizzle

                            I think you're being a bit harsh. David certainly wasn't saying anything negative about all southern food. We all know good southern food should be cooked with some form of pork product and served with vinegar or hot sauce.

                            But that's no excuse when a restaurant serves canned vegetables who's poor quality is covered up by an excess of fat (and I love fat in my food, just find it overwhelming in some bad cafeterias).

                            Plus, practically speaking one of the easiest ways to make food which is going to sit around for a long time stay acceptably "fresh" looking is ensure it has an extra glaze of fat on the outside.

                            Compare the quality of food you get from K&W with Time Out, which is also cheap southern food, but fresh and prepared on the premises.

                            1. re: ben f

                              I wasn't necessarily arguing with his take on K&W's food, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, and this is certainly the place to voice that opinion. What rubbed me the wrong way was his characterization of the people who eat at K&W. I think you can critique an eating establishment without belittling its clientele.

                              1. re: Sizzle

                                Dear Sizzle:

                                I certainly did not mean to belittle the clientelle of K&W, but merely to point out what I'm guessing to be a sociological fact: K&W, like most low-cost places, attract people who earn less money, and that these kinds of places increasingly serve really large portions of really lousy and unhealthy food. Far from casting aspersions on "low-income" people, I was attempting to characterize the way that fast-food culture has largely deprived them of the kinds of places where they might be able to eat well at a reasonable price: delis, BBQ joints, pizzerias, and so on. My point was essentially sympathetic and concerned rather than belittling.

                                David A.

                          3. re: GT-ACC man
                            Son of the South

                            I agree with the above.

                            However, S&S Cafeteria is better!

                          4. "Is there a problem here? Is there a solution to the problem? I don't know."
                            Are you sure you aren't really a 2004 presidential contender? What's is your opinion of Allen & Son's? Krispy Kreme?
                            Heck, why don't you just "visualize whirled peas" like the rest in Chapel Hill!

                            1. If you're ever in Crabtree Valley mall in Raleigh try the cafeteria inside the Belk's store. Be aware, it's still a cafeteria so the food isn't going to be great but I think it's quite good-- far better than K&W or the choice at the food court.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Sant

                                I can't belive that cafeteria is still in that Belk's. I used to eat at that place back in the early '70s when I worked at a camera place across the parking lot while in collage. As I remember it was not bad, but then, I could not spend a lot for food in those days but I tried to eat a meat and three every day.

                              2. Are you thank about open a K&W cafeteria back in good old Danville.So all yours empolyers will be ,back at home that is K&W.I miss work for there. So if you decide you are going to open back I be there for many more years.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Louise Vaden

                                  The cafeteria in the Crabtree Belk's has been closed for several years. I would wager the net worth or income of 99% patrons at the Cameron Village K & W exceeds any food snobs. The food is not gourmet but it is not awful

                                2. I was practically raised on K&W. I grew up in W-S and EVERYONE went to K&W after church on Sundays. I know it's far from gourmet but I love every bit of it. When I went off to college, my friends and I would chow down at K&W at least once a week. I wish I had a slice of their coconut cream pie right now...

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: marshmallow78

                                    I also grew up in WS and ate K&W every time I visited my grandparents. The food has changed over the years. They used to crank out some really good food, but things have slipped. I fondly remember their pies having real merengue, but now it's Read-Whip out of a spray can.

                                  2. If you ever eat at the K & W Cafeteria in Salisbury, you might be seating next to Ralph Ketner (Food Lion founder). He eats there a lot and I guess you could say he knows a lot about food and certainly has the money to eat any where he wants. But as someone else said, it is not as good as it use to be. The tend to have the same menu items which gets to be very boring.