Dining debacle comes to a close

A diner and deli will open on the ground floor of Gallagher Student Center on Jan. 3, following a year of heated debate, delay and dissatisfaction

Graphic courtesy of Xavier University | On Jan. 3, food options, such as the diner rendered above, will finally be opening on the ground floor of Gallagher Student Center. The renovations were supposed to have been finished before the 2018-19 school year began.

After over a year of anticipation, Chartwells will open two new restaurants, a diner and a deli, on the ground floor of Gallagher Student Center (GSC) on Jan. 3.

The two restaurants were first expected to open at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year but construction was pushed back. Students and administrators alike were frustrated by the delay.

Vice President Brianna Boyce is exasperated that first-year students do not know what they are missing out on. “It’s kinda hard to convey that to them that this is not how Xavier usually is… It’s hard to convey to them that they’re being gypped on things,” she said.

Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Services Dr. Jude Kiah met with the Student Government Association (SGA) on Nov. 21 to discuss retail dining on campus and the new restaurants, among other projects Connex is working on. Senators were particularly disgruntled by the projected pricing of the new restaurants of $8-$12 per meal.

Kiah maintains that the purpose of the on-campus retail dining options are to supplement the residential dining. Retail dining alleviates over-crowding in the caf and offers alternatives when students are tired of the caf’s menu. As such, the retail dining should be higher quality food than that of the caf, resulting in higher prices.

Senators voiced their concern, asking Kiah about the pricing of the pop-up sub shop placed in the Fenwick atrium at the end of September. Kiah asserts that the meat and cheese at the sub shop are higher quality than the food in the caf, though Senator Julian Rozo shared that he could not tell the difference.  

This is not the first bout of concerns SGA senators have had over the GSC ground floor restaurants.

Word got around last October that after a year-long student feedback initiative, Connex planned to renovate the GSC ground floor via a $2 million dollar investment with Chartwells, the food service Connex has contracted to manage Hoff Dining Commons (the caf), Victory Perk, Conaton Fresh Express and catering in Cintas. The renovations would extend from the layout of the floor to the back of house kitchen, facilities formerly utilized by three restaurants: Ryan’s Pub, Subway and Blue Gibbon.

Newswire photo by Heather Gast | Renovations are currently ongoing on the ground floor of Gallagher Student Center. Since the renovations were announced, there has been heated debate on the matter.

Chartwells required a sizable expected revenue from operating retail dining to agree to the investment. The revenue expected from operating the three basement restaurants was not enough, so the two former branches of student favorite Coffee Emporium on the first floor of GSC and Smith Hall were included in the deal. Most students heard of the deal through word of mouth before the deal was signed.

Connex hosted a Q&A session on November 8 to answer the community’s questions. Student employees were concerned they would lose their jobs. All employees of the former restaurants were offered jobs by Connex following the closure of the restaurants.

Others worried that Chartwells would dominate Xavier’s retail dining market as a near-monopoly. This sentiment remains today among SGA senators. Students collected 1,500 signatures to allow the GSC restaurants to maintain their leases to no avail. Students voiced frustration over a lack of clear communication between Connex and the student body at the Q&A.

Connex Auxiliary Services offered the restaurants the option to pull out of their contracts before the end of the 2017-2018 school year, an offer both Ryan’s Pub and Blue Gibbon took due to a lack of revenue. Both closed before winter break.

Subway later followed suit, though the sandwich shop and each branch of Coffee Emporium remained open until the end of the school year.

The largest dissent was over Coffee Emporium. The Cincinnati-founded coffee shop was not in direct way of renovations on the ground floor and was beloved by its student employees. Though Connex claimed all of the retail dining establishments had been notified that the renovations were being considered, Coffee Emporium’s Café Operations Manager Xabier Aizpuru claimed that Coffee Emporium was not informed. At the time, Kiah made it clear that it was up to Coffee Emporium whether their lease that would expire at the end of June 2018 would continue. 

At the SGA meeting on Nov. 19, after stating that Ryan’s Pub, Blue Gibbon and Subway had left of their own volition, Kiah shared that one unnamed restaurant had requested that Xavier terminate their contract instead of the vendor themselves because they found it to be embarrassing.

Kiah met with SGA as the Report of Administration on Apr. 9 to update senators on various projects that Connex had in the works, including changing the meal plans. Senator Ellen Rakowski was concerned that the new meal plans were too expensive. The affordability of all food on campus has plagued the Senate floor since.

Senator Jacob Jansen, among others, attribute the high prices to Chartwells near monopoly of Xavier’s retail dining. Besides Currito, convenience food available in the GSC bookstore and Starbucks at U-Station, all of the retail dining options on campus will be managed by Chartwells. Students are worried that if there is not sufficient competition, Chartwells will raise their prices to their heart’s content and students will be unable to stop them. 

Senator Ellen Rakowski has encouraged students to join her on a boycott against Chartwells for this reason on her Facebook. 

Kiah does not buy into this reasoning. Each Chartwells restaurant will be in competition with each other. For there to be a healthy retail dining system, no one restaurant can dominate the others. If one restaurant is too popular, students will soon become tired of the menu, and eventually, tired of the restaurant as a whole.

Because the restaurants will be managed by one entity rather than operate as branches of specific chain restaurant, if sales show that students have become tired of a restaurant, Chartwells will change the platform of the restaurant. Kiah asserts that this will ultimately be more beneficial to the campus. Because of chain restaurant’s lack of platform flexibility, “One could make the argument that it is irresponsible to have more than one provider,” Kiah said.

As for pricing, Kiah insisted that the cheaper food options were not purchased by students. He heard students criticize them often. “It’s a canard to think that if you reduce your prices they will come.”

Kiah pledged that the Victory perk locations would maintain their grab-and-go value options as long as there is demand. He shared at the Nov. 19 SGA meeting that Connex has already prevented Chartwells from raising their prices.

As a result of the new meal plans, none of the approximately 1,800 students who live on campus would not be considered food insecure while the caf is open. The SGA executives have been heading an initiative to provide food options on campus for students who stay over breaks when the caf is closed that have yet to yield results.

Overall, Senators are concerned that every student, despite whether they have a meal plan or their level of income, has access to food on campus. Senator Valiant Freeman emphasized, “With being at a Jesuit university, every student needs to be taken care of and food is a big part of a person’s life. And people need to be fed.”

By: Heather Gast | Campus News Editor.