Coffman takes clients from local restaurants

While some owners report losses, others closer to campus say business is still brisk.

by Boa Lee

More than a year since Coffman Union reopened Jan. 21, 2003, students said they are enjoying access to its cafeteria-style dining in the heart of campus. But when many stopped frequenting nearby establishments in favor of Coffman, some University-area restaurants noticed.

Coffman’s food court, Minnesota Marketplace, in addition to offering University Dining Services brand options, has local and national chain restaurants such as Chick-Fil-A and Famous Dave’s.

Senior economics student Tasha Soundara said she eats at the Minnesota Marketplace about twice a week. Before Coffman opened, Soundara estimated eating at non-University-affiliated eateries 75 percent of the time, but now she visits them just a quarter of the time.

“If you have an hour in between classes, it’s just easier to go in (to Coffman) and grab something,” Soundara said.

This convenience is hurting some local restaurants.

Tom Ton has owned Perry’s Pizza in Stadium Village for about 15 years. In the past year, he said he has noticed an approximately 80 percent decrease in the number of people coming in for lunch.

“There is convenient food and vending in (Coffman),” he said. “And (students) don’t have the time to walk down here.”

Jim Rosvold, Campus Pizza general manager, said he lost about 2 percent to 3 percent profit once the nearby University offices and student groups relocated to Coffman.

“It was fun while it lasted,” Rosvold said of his former neighbors, who occupied a complex across the street during Coffman’s renovation. “But we knew it wouldn’t last and we planned for that.”

Other restaurant owners and managers said the opening of Coffman’s dining area has not affected their businesses. Many cite location as the reason they’ve remained competitive.

Chacke Scallen, Juno Investment vice president, which owns the Dinkydome, said business is still good.

“We’re close to campus. People just run over after class, before class, in the evening, whenever,” Scallen said.

Myranda Thomas, a speech and hearing sciences junior, said she has not seen a large difference in the number of people who eat in the Dinkydome since Coffman reopened.

“But I remember when it was hard to find a table by yourself,” said Thomas, who eats there regularly because her classes are nearby. “Now it’s not as packed.”

Many restaurant owners said their unique businesses shield them from competition from Coffman restaurants.

Dinkytowner Cafe owner Ryan Grubbs said location and loyal customers keep business going.

“We have a very specific clientele. People come in here to sit, do homework or watch TV,” Grubbs said. “We’re far enough away (from Coffman).”

Ilien Kuo, owner of WJ and Bobaboca Tea and Cafe in the Dinkydome, said her business’ unusual menu draws customers.

“We offer bubble tea, Taiwanese and other Asian food that you cannot find,” Kuo said.

Maggie Towle, Twin Cities Student Unions director, said she has received generally positive feedback from students about the variety of food options at Coffman. However, she said, she has also heard that business at local venues has suffered.

“I feel bad about the areas there where the numbers have gone down,” Towle said. “But we feel that for Coffman, we’re creating a great community.”

UDS could not be reached for comment.

Some restaurants owners adversely affected by Coffman’s dining said they hope students will come back.

Ton has been thinking of ways to draw people into Perry’s Pizza, but said lowering menu prices will only hurt his profit, not increase customers.

“We have a good lunch special already,” he said. “That’s been around for years.”

Espresso Royale Cafe manager Emily Baxter said the Minnesota Marketplace slightly hurt her Stadium Village coffee shop. Lately, she said, business has been worse because of the cold weather.

“People are reluctant to step outside,” Baxter said. “It’s probably less harsh to get to Coffman.”

Baxter said she expects business to return once the temperature rises.