Out-of-the-way restaurants struggle to survive

Kelly Gulbrandson

Tucked away in a corner of the Dinkydome is a small restaurant dealing with struggles that come with its location.

Mike Kuo, owner of Bobaboca Tea and Café, said the restaurant’s size and location can be a problem.

“It’s hard for people to see us,” he said.

While Kuo said the restaurant is “doing OK” and not having too many problems getting business, it is something he has to deal with.

With the closure of Pita Pit, due in part to its location inside Stadium Village Mall, the University area has other hidden restaurants struggling with slow business.

Some restaurants are not visible from the street and require customers to make more of an effort to visit the business. These places exist across campus – not just in one neighborhood.

Bobaboca deals with its location by advertising “different” kinds of Chinese food and bubble tea – a popular dessert drink with tapioca beads on the bottom – Kuo said.

Another way it deals with struggles is by reaching out to Chinese student organizations and donating gift cards and food, Kuo said.

He said the restaurant focuses on word-of-mouth advertising to keep customers coming back.

Kuo is worried, however, about what the Dinkydome’s new owners’ plans might be, he said. One plan could call for housing to be added to the building.

Ruhel Islam, co-owner of Little Taj Mahal, another restaurant in the Dinkydome, said that although the restaurant’s lease lasts until 2016, he’s worried the new owners may ask him to leave.

Islam said the two-year-old Indian restaurant deals with its location by advertising its daily buffet with a sign on University Avenue. The sign helps bring customers in from the street, he said, but it is not the only reason students come.

Little Taj Mahal is the only Indian restaurant on campus, he said.

But the location is not the only problem he said the restaurant is currently facing.

“The cost of food production is increasing,” Islam said, which causes a problem when making fresh, inexpensive food for the customers, he said.

Despite his problems, Islam said the restaurant is “surviving.”

Stadium Village and Cedar-Riverside restaurants

Korea Restaurant, adjacent to Shin Hair Salon, is located in Stadium Village at 210 Oak St. S.E.

Claire Mo, a worker at the restaurant, said that though the restaurant doesn’t advertise much, Korean International Student Organization members receive a 5 percent discount on dinners.

“I guess the customers’ loyalty keeps the customers coming back and they bring other customers with them,” she said.

While some restaurants may be struggling with their location problems, not all think this is a big concern.

Pat Starrs, owner of The Wienery, a hot-dog restaurant located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, said location can be an important part to success, but it isn’t the only factor.

“If you have a tremendous product that is unique and people seek it out, they will follow you,” he said.

People like to go somewhere that has good food, Starrs said, but also a place where they can relax and hang out.

The West Bank neighborhoods are different than others in the area, he said, because the people there have a stronger sense of community, which he said has contributed to his long-term success.

“There’s people who are West Bankers who have been around this neighborhood for their lives and it’s a part of their community,” Starrs said. “It’s like a separate part of their family and there’s hundreds of people who fit that category.”