Northern Kentucky University students are turning out in droves to interact with the Student Union building at the Highland Height’s campus this semester.
As though attracted to fast food, students trek across NKU’s concrete jungle, the constant sound of student conversation and the scent of fresh restaurant food permeates the air.
Like a fast food beacon, the hungry minds and stomachs of students are making their way to the socializing hub that is housed within the SU.
From flat screen TVs and interactive video games, to the retro-comfort of 1960s furniture, students are working up an appetite as they take full advantage of the building’s amenities.
According to Ed Devoid, Chartwells’ Senior Director of Dining Services at NKU, students are turning out in record numbers to chow down on the newly opened restaurants within the SU building.
“The restaurants have been slammed since we fully opened on Aug. 25,” Devoid said. “A week prior, we didn’t imagine there would be this much activity.”
Devoid says the restaurants have served close to 8,000 students a day since the opening, which, he says, is a far cry from the 112 they recorded earlier this month.
“The old University Center Grill did 150 customers a day. So, we went from zero to hair-on-fire, just like that,” he said.
Devoid and his parent company, Chartwells, maintain 33 facilities on NKU’s campus, which range from convenient stores at Landrum Academic Center, and the 10 restaurants at the SU building, to the seven concession stands that occupy the Bank of Kentucky Center.
“I’ve had about 20 openings at various other colleges and universities, but the one here at NKU was one of the nicest and most complete,” Devoid said.
The 750-seat court yard, located on the plaza level of the SU contains the most diverse grouping of restaurants from the Chartwells’ family in the region.
Devoid says they purposely avoided the use of national brands, such as KFC or McDonalds’, in order to reserve the right to make changes to concepts or food items that just don’t work.
“We have complete autonomy by having our own brands. This is important because if enough students decide they dislike something, they can simply fill out a comment card at the SU or at www.dineoncampus.com/nku,” Devoid said.
If enough complaints are made by students, he says Chartwells and the university have the independence and ability to rework it.
“I implore students to fill out the comment cards. They come directly to me and I act on them,” he said.
During the construction phase of SU, Devoid said he began to worry about architectural layout. With the all the walls that were being constructed, he was afraid that the tremendous traffic jams that occurred at the UC grill would continue on at the SU.
“There was a major problem at UC. It was a jail break during peak hours,” Devoid said. “The line would start at the food, to the register, then out the door. Nobody knew what part they played where,” he said.
But, Devoid said that Chartwells, working in tandem with the university, have made some adjustments to cut down on the lines getting out of hand at the SU. Restaurants such as Coyote Jack’s, which receives upwards of 600 customers a day, Mondo Subs and Mamma Leone’s have each added more registers since the first week of opening.
“The numbers tell you how busy we in fact are,” Devoid said. “We are selling around 500 pizzas a day, if that tells you anything.”
In the foreseeable future, Chartwells is looking to cut wait time down even more, by introducing a new feature at the SU, called Webfood, said Janelle Craft, Marketing Director for NKU Dining Services.
“Food customers will be able to place their orders for Coyote Jack’s, Mondo Subs and Outtakes from a kiosk in the SU building or from their office, the computer lab, or anywhere,” Craft said.
Devoid said the feed-back he has received on how good the food is. A sentiment echoed by freshman, social work major, Shelbi Thomas.
“I like the variety the restaurants have to offer, and the food is really fresh,” she said.
The hungry students may be keeping the workers at the Student Union busy, but this is exactly what the Chartwells restaurants are there for, Devoid admits.
“Our mission is to get those students who are just hanging out in their car, into the Student Union facilities. They can come hang out in here.”