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The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The Collis Special and Its Devoted Community

Tyler Amell-Angst ’26 explores the cultural significance of the Collis Lunch Special on campus and reviews the daily Special for a week.

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On Monday through Friday, Collis Cafe prepares a variety of lunch options, but none seem to be more popular than the Collis Lunch Special. The Special — which changes every day but follows a loose weekly pattern — even has its own dedicated GroupMe chat titled “Collis Special @NOW.” The chat has more than 1,400 members, all eager to hear the day’s Special option. 

This past week, I dove into the vibrant community of Collis Special superfans. My investigation included trying the lunch special every day, often with the company of one of these superfans, as well as exploring the cultural relevance of the GroupMe chat on campus. 

On Monday, I sat down with Colleen Moore ’25, who said she eats the Collis Special four times a week. She and I enjoyed a warm bowl of baked sausage penne — the Special of the day — as I dove into the particulars of her love for Collis, starting with a review of the meal at hand.

“The baked sausage penne is one of my favorites — I love the pasta specials. While the sausage was a little undercooked, the pasta was al dente, and the cheese was beautifully baked on top,” she said. “I also love the pasta primavera with pesto. We all know that pasta is what Collis does best.”

I agreed with her take on the penne: It was warm, tender and simple but not lacking in character, and it served as a powerful breakfast for my late start to the day on Monday. This strong showing from the Special station filled me with high expectations for Tuesday’s meal. 

Not only did the tomatoey softness of Tuesday’s gnocchi caponata make an underdog play for the title of my favorite Collis lunch special, but my conversation with head chef Dylan Griffin illuminated my understanding of the history of the Special and brightened my day. 

“I have worked here for 12 years, starting when Collis used to be just the vegetarian option,” Griffin said. “When I started we only did about 50 lunch specials per day. Now, we are up to around 250 — first come, first serve — so usually by 1:00 to 1:30… it’s gone!”

Collis worker Colin Farr, who works with Griffin to produce the Special on a daily basis, highlighted his wish for more recognition of the Specials. 

“It’s about time the Specials get the shine they deserve,” he said. “You can quote me on that.”

Wednesday brought teriyaki chicken with peanut salad and a nice conversation with a friend amidst the buzzing energy of the cafe. The cold noodles of the peanut salad with warm chicken breast were an unlikely pairing, but they worked wonders for this hungry writer. I became so enthralled in my meal and conversation that I surrendered a chemistry office hours session to savor some more time in the warmth of Collis.

Although Wednesday's meal was delectable, one particular dish has captivated the hearts of many: the noodle bowls served for lunch every Thursday. This Special has recently exploded in popularity, Griffin attested.

“Noodle bowls are the most popular option, so we are even going to run them in the summer to see if people can eat them when it's 90 degrees outside,” he said. “It is so trendy because you can customize it. If you want it spicy, you can get it spicy! It has been really fun to see the kids with their bowls, eating together.”

Moore agreed with the universal appeal of the noodle bowls. 

“My favorite special is the pork noodle bowl,” she said. “But the line is usually insane.” 

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to try this superstar Special option. If you haven’t tried it, the dish is worth the hype. The noodles are soft, the meat is filling and the broth will satisfy whatever subconscious need you may have.

During this lunch, I also had the chance to speak with Sasha Kokoshinskiy ’23, the founder and operator of the “Collis Special @NOW” GroupMe. Created in the fall of 2021 as a response to other imperfect methods of tracking each day’s Special, the GroupMe provides a picture of the Special every day to alert its members. Kokoshosnskiy admits he didn’t expect such a huge response to its creation. 

“I had no idea Collis was so important to so many,” he said. “I now check the number of members every day, and we once used to be the biggest GroupMe on campus during spring of 2022, when we had more people than [another campus GroupMe] FREE FOOD @NOW.”

Kokoshosnskiy explained that whenever the GroupMe chat hits a major milestone in its number of members, he plans a surprise for the group. 

“We hit 500 members in the first few weeks, which I celebrated by creating a fake Phil Hanlon account to join the group,” he said. “We are about to hit 1,500 people, when someone else interesting will join — it is already planned and still a secret, so stay tuned.”

Kokoshinskiy also touched on what differentiates Collis from the other dining options around campus, and what separates his GroupMe from other chats. 

“The staff of Collis is aware and involved in the GroupMe, and often Darin [one of the Collis workers] poses in the pictures of the special,” he said. “They embrace the group, creating a quasi-community that goes beyond the screen.” 

By the end of the week, I didn’t know what more the Collis staff could pull from their metaphorical bag, yet they appeared with a classic: tortellini bolognese. By the end of my meal, I was happily stuffed and properly fueled for my conversation with Jessica Cheng ’23. 

Cheng said that in her religion class “REL 1.01: What Matters,” she had to write a paper on something important to her while connecting this topic to written works they had read in class. Cheng chose to write about the intricate beauty of the Collis Special @NOW GroupMe.

“[The Collis Special GroupMe] is really special because it encapsulates a lot of what Dartmouth means, and it has a lot of personality,” she said. “Collis itself feels the most personal [campus dining location] — it is small and approachable with a homey atmosphere, and it’s easier to chat with the staff.” 

The Collis Special has found a way to tap into the very fabric of Dartmouth’s community and campus culture. With a cult-like following on GroupMe and its many delicious variations  (to which I can attest), the Collis Lunch Special brings cheer to every student that steps up to the counter. I have no doubt it will continue to do so.