As the on-campus location of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers remains closed for the fall, students reminisce about its role in campus culture and look forward to its reopening.
It came as no surprise that campus would look and feel different six months into a pandemic. But some students were surprised that it would smell different, too.
Now, walking past Paty Hall isn’t quite the same. Known for housing the only Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers location within approximately a 100-mile radius, Paty Hall has become a landmark for late-night eats.
Raising Cane’s is one of the campus dining locations that was unable to open for the fall semester, due largely to staffing issues that prevented the Raising Cane’s brand from permitting the Tuscaloosa location to reopen its doors when students arrived back on campus in August.
Kristina Patridge, director of University Dining Services, explained that the decisions about which campus dining locations would open back up was primarily dependent on the brands, rather than simply the University.
“First and foremost, it was a brand-mandated decision,” Patridge said. “All brands on campus have brand standards, and with the challenges with hiring people and also with some staff needing to stay home because of children who go to city schools and are learning online for the first nine weeks, we could not get the staff up to the level that Raising Cane’s brand would allow us to open full throttle. Additionally, the space is very challenging to social distance in, not only for the customers but for the staff also. So, for those reasons, it wasn’t able to open this year.”
Patridge said a dining service development committee meets regularly to examine the possibilities for creating the best dining experience for students with COVID-19 restrictions that remain in place.
“We are constantly monitoring what the state and federal and UA guidelines are regarding food and beverage operations, looking at opportunities for recruiting staff,” Patridge said. “It’s such a popular place, we want to open popular places, but again, it goes back to the brand saying, ‘Okay, you can open.’”
Grace Williamson, a sophomore majoring in English, worked at Raising Cane’s during her freshman year until campus closed because of the pandemic.
“Cane’s really helped me to get to know a lot of people in Tuscaloosa that didn’t go to school,” Williamson said. “It really helped me to bond with the city more because I met a lot of Tuscaloosa natives through that job and saw how they lived their lives and still how dedicated they were to the students, so that was really cool to see.”
Williamson, who has gotten a new job since returning to campus, reflected on the ways in which she felt Raising Cane’s differed from other restaurants.
“I really liked working at Cane’s – I mean, obviously not working until 2:30 a.m.,” Williamson said, laughing. “But, it’s just a really upbeat atmosphere. I don’t know if everyone knows this, but the reason our shirts say ‘One Love’ is because our food is called ‘love,’ and so like, whenever food pops up in the window, they don’t say, ‘there’s food in the window’– they’re like, ‘there’s love in the window,’ so it’s a really cool atmosphere.”
Will Farris, a sophomore majoring in marine science and biology, also reminisced about Raising Cane’s late-night atmosphere that gave it a special role in Alabama’s campus culture.
“Without Cane’s, it’s definitely a sadder environment, and it really takes away one of the good options for if you’re on campus and it’s later in the day, then Cane’s was like the place you could go,” Farris said.
Even though Raising Cane’s was not new to Farris, who is from Louisiana and grew up going to the restaurant, the experience of living on campus as a freshman and just being able to go enjoy the upbeat environment of the Raising Cane’s in Paty Hall late at night still played an important role in his freshman experience.
“I really feel more for the freshmen than anybody else just because they don’t get some of the quintessential stuff that made my college life what it was,” Farris said.
Williamson stressed how hard her co-workers at Raising Cane’s always worked to make sure students were able to have such enjoyable experiences there.
“They stay there until 2:30, 2:45 a.m., like, just cleaning up, just so they can take care of all the students,” Williamson said.
With the next closest Raising Cane’s located in Meridian, Miss., students like Farris have found other go-to restaurants for when they want food late at night and do not have the same options as they had in the past.
“Now, I normally just go off campus to get Taco Bell,” Farris said. “It would be Cookout, but with the interior of Cookout being closed, there’s always a line.”
While Farris said that other local chicken restaurants such as Foosackly’s and Guthrie’s were comparable to Raising Cane’s, Williamson has a special tie to Raising Cane’s.
“I was sad because I know that’s just such a staple of The University of Alabama, especially that it’s like, the only one that we have is just right in the middle of campus,” Williamson said. “So it’s not only a staple of Alabama but like, it’s a staple of Tuscaloosa.”
Farris and Williamson were hopeful about Tuscaloosa’s Raising Cane’s location reopening in the future, especially so that people who have never tried it could finally get the chance to.
Patridge said that although they do yet know exactly when it will happen, University Dining Services can’t wait until Raising Cane’s and other dining options will reopen.
“We stand ready to open to the level that’s safe,” Patridge said. “We of course want all of our customers and staff safe, and we’re ready to transition into a more normal, more … community-building type set-up as we have had in the past, and we’ll be ready to respond just as soon as it’s safe and feasible.”