Two powerhouse food franchises are doing all they can to secure a location on UNF’s campus, said UNF Student Body President Carlo Fassi.
The funding for a food venue overhaul has been approved, and Fassi said he is waiting on UNF Facilities Planning and UNF Auxiliary Services to take the next step.
The total budget necessary to change Sbarro to Chick-fil-A is $697,000, said Korey Konopasek, director for Chartwells at UNF.
He said Student Government requested an additional $209,549 to renovate Salsarita’s for Papa John’s.
Student Body Treasurer Bill Namen said the funding would come from activity and service fees and the SG fund balance, which accumulates every year as leftover A&S fees.
The UNF Auxiliary Oversight Committee approved a request Oct. 10 to use $150,000 of the student fund balance to help pay for the dining renovation, Fassi said.
The project will replace Salsarita’s in the Student Union with Papa John’s, and Sbarro’s in Building 8 with Chick-fil-A.
“Both are on board and are excited to come here,” Konopasek said. “They’re moving as quick as they can.”
The next step involves getting representatives for the two companies on campus, along with designers and architects.
Fassi said once he gets the go-ahead and the drawings from the architects, Facilities Planning will move forward with the renovations.
The committee submits recommendations regarding campus expenditures to UNF President John Delaney, who has the final say in approval. Vince Smyth, director of UNF Auxiliary Services, said the oversight committee acts as an advisory group to the president; reviewing policies involving UNF’s budget.
The committee, of which Fassi and Smyth are members, is composed of university administrators and executives.
Auxiliary Services works with the campus planning department, which coordinates any construction on campus. They also have a number of contracts with third-party services; one of which is Chartwells.
Chartwells runs all the food services that happen on campus with the exception of athletic concessions, which Hero Concessions runs. Chartwells runs the venues under license from the companies.
Smyth said Auxiliary Services would shepherd the project to make sure it remains a priority. He said it will be Chartwells’ job to make sure the venues functions operationally.
Fassi said the university would own all amenities within the establishment, and Chartwells would write the individual contracts with the companies.
The bill passes
The 2011-12 Brockelman-Warner administration originally proposed the initiative to enhance the overall UNF dining experience.
Fassi initially proposed the bill Aug. 18 to fund renovations to the existing locations.
He said the original bill that proposed the renovations should have specifically mentioned the two new vendors. However, the original surveys did not specify the renovations were for Chick-fil-A and Papa John’s.
“There was a lot of vagueness in regards to what we were funding,” Fassi said.
Fassi said this did not provide for a legitimate debate on the issue and vetoed the original bill due to improper wording.
He took responsibility for the ambiguous wording and called an emergency Senate meeting to restructure the bill to include the two new venues. The Senate approved the bill Oct. 1 30-7.
Fassi said Chartwells and SG both have conducted brand-preference surveys to students over the past three semesters, which persistently showed a preference for Chick-fil-A and Papa John’s.
“The students certainly put up the vast majority here and showed how much they want this to happen,” Smyth said.
Staff will stay at UNF
The transition would effectively replace the current Sbarro and Salsarita’s establishments, which could lead to a change in staff.
The Spinnaker reported Sept. 5 none of the current food-chain employees on campus would lose their job. Dave Jordan, resident district manager for Chartwells, said Chartwells employs staff — not the franchise.
Jordan said Chartwells readily moves employees around on campus when necessary, for instances such as these.
“We would have no intention to lay anyone off,” Konopasek said.
Konopasek said, with the Osprey Café up and running, Chartwells has been very busy. He said there are plenty of jobs and said there were quite a few long-term employees on campus he would not let go.
Why even renovate?
Renovations for Chick-fil-A are more than triple the funds needed for Papa John’s renovations. Konopasek said one reason for this is because Chick-fil-A runs an all-electric company.
He said Sbarro is not currently setup for the level of electricity Chick-fil-A requires, and that is where some of the major renovation work would come in.
He said gas fryers do not reheat and circulate quickly enough to produce the volume of food with which Chick-fil-A is familiar.
Not to mention the two, giant pizza ovens that must be gutted.
“You have to completely change the layout of that space,” Fassi said.
Konopasek said Sbarro’s location was the largest establishment on campus into which Chick-fil-A could comfortably situate, despite the entire store having to be gutted for renovations.
“They need a fair amount of space to make a Chick-fil-A work because it is very popular,” Smyth said.
Konopasek said UNF would pay a franchise fee to Chick-fil-A and Papa John’s. Once the restaurants open, UNF will pay a percentage of sales in order to operate their brand. The companies will hold inspections to make sure the campus establishment is living up to the brand standards.
Jeff Bucy, the closest Chick-fil-A operator, will serve as UNF Chick-fil-A’s consultant.
Bucy, who operates the Chick-fil-A at St. Johns Town Center, said an establishment on campus would take away some business from the store but would be an exciting way to continue the brand.
“[Bucy] benefits from us doing well,” Konopasek said, “so he will have our best interests in mind.”
Smyth said Chick-fil-A needed to replace an existing food venue because UNF has plenty of on-campus venues. He said creating too many venues, without a growing customer base, would be unreasonable.
He said the customer base at UNF remains relatively stable because the campus has only seen an increase of a couple hundred students in the last semesters.
Fassi said Alumni Square was the central hub on campus before the Student Union’s construction. He said SG would even host elections there.
“It’s prime real estate for programming,” Fassi said.
He said a Chick-fil-A in Building 8 would give students incentive to populate the area once again.
He said the relationship between the Town Center Chick-fil-A and the one on campus would be a mutually beneficial relationship.
Bucy said freshmen and residents would likely choose the campus destination, while commuter students would likely choose the Town Center location.
Omitting Sbarro from UNF’s lineup would leave UNF without a pizza venue. Smyth said this is something he doesn’t want to do and said Papa John’s is a very popular concept on campuses.
But Sbarro has been at Alumni Square for 10 years. Smyth said, despite the establishment’s age, the equipment still works efficiently. He said renovations would not be necessary without the change in venues.
Nelson Hertzog, the general manager at Papa John’s on St. Johns Bluff Road, said his store is the only one that delivers to UNF. He said it delivers dozens of pizzas a week to campus — at least five or six per day.
He said it may affect business a little, but it would likely be much more beneficial to student-residents.
He said, even with an establishment on campus, it’s always going to be easier to call delivery.
Students speak out for, against changes
Fassi said, in any government, whenever government collects resources, it’s going to spend them in a way that some people find offensive or inappropriate.
“If students feel their funds are not being spent in a reasonable manner,” Fassi said, “I’d encourage them to stand up and state their opinion.”
He said politics was never a part other initiatives, such as free printing and the Blackboard mobile app, and was not a part of Chick-fil-A and Papa John’s coming to campus.
“Any of the projects we work on are strictly done for the benefit of the student body in general,” Fassi said.
Sen. Jason Fountain, a UNF political science junior, said it was fiscally irresponsible to choose the two new brands to bring to campus because of the close proximity of neighboring venues.
There are six Chick-fil-A restaurants within a 10-mile radius of the university, including one less than a mile away at the St. John’s Town Center.
Fountain said it would draw business away from the other locations and mentioned the student-funded Osprey Connector, which shuttles students within crawling distance of signature chicken sandwiches.
“Students who come to this university expect to have services,” Fountain said. “But I know this is not the best way to spend it.”
For students, Sunday is a free day from class for students, especially residents, to make use of campus facilities.
Sen. Ross Keen said Chick-fil-A being closed for 14.3 percent of the week would not only result in no-service Sundays but fewer hours for employees.
Fountain said UNF could at least have a vendor that is open seven days a week.
But Smyth said the majority of food options aren’t open on campus during the weekend, including both Sbarro and Salsarita’s.
Smyth said Chartwells would gladly open on Sundays in more locations, if the potential for more business were there. He said, however, the business simply isn’t there.
“Obviously, with Chick-fil-A, that won’t even be a choice,” Smyth said.
Student Body Student Advocate Sergio Saavedra said at the Oct. 1 meeting three separate surveys conducted over the Spring, Summer and Fall 2012 semesters consistently showed a 4-1 approval for new dining adjustments.
“The students certainly put up the vast majority here and showed how much they want this to happen,” Smyth said.
Fassi said Chartwells and SG both have conducted brand-preference surveys to students over the past semesters. Several Senators at the Oct. 1 meeting cited those survey numbers, which persistently showed polled students favor the venues by 80 percent.
“If we can satisfy 80 percent of our customer base with something,” Smyth said, “then that’s a pretty good number.”
Dustin Swinney, a UNF public relations senior, said the 80 percent speaks a lot louder than the 20 percent.
That 20 percent of dissatisfied students includes many in the LGBT Resource Center and UNF Pride Club.
Eric Hagen, treasurer of the UNF Pride Club, said the club is against Chick-fil-A because of the publicity and controversy Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy generated over the summer. He said it’s bad for the school community and would only cause divisiveness among the student body.
“We’re not asking for a lot,” said Mariah Moss, president of the UNF Pride Club. “Just a compromise.”
But Senate President Zak Varshovi said politics has nothing to do with the issue. He urged the senators not to vote on their personal beliefs at the Oct. 1 Senate meeting and prompted objective discussions regarding the issue.
Cedric Tellis, a UNF music alumnus, said there may be more faith-based organizations than students think. He said there are Chick-fil-As on campuses across America, including the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and the University of Houston.
Tellis said the addition to UNF would be great. He said, despite Cathy’s public opinion, Chick-fil-A’s employees treat everyone the same way.
Sara Brochu, a UNF accounting freshman, said everyone is entitled to their opinion.
“It’s just food,” Brochu said. “I like it, regardless of their opinion or stance.”
Brochu works and attends classes on campus six days a week and said, given the option, she would prefer a Chick-fil-A at UNF in lieu of the hour-long round trip to the Town Center via the Osprey Connector.
Fassi said the overwhelming amount of support from students — not the companies’ choice of lobbyists — inspired the decision to include Chick-fil-A and Papa John’s in new dining options.
“For me, chicken has never been about politics,” said John Fuqua, a UNF public relations senior.
Hagen said students just needed more time to be educated about the situation and to research more options.
For better or worse, UNF is coming closer to becoming a fast food campus.
Email Justin Chandler Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org.