Scheduled for early August, the opening of three new UTSC food outlets — KFC, Taco Bell, and Hero Burger — was delayed due to prolonged negotiations between the not-for-profit Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the franchisers, and the university’s design and construction department.
President of Scarborough Campus Student Union and the spaces’ owner, Pagalavan Thavarajah, said that the debate over design played a big role in the delay.
With a dental office being constructed right beside the establishments, he said it was imperative that all the design specifications be met so the SCSU could offer a request to lower building costs and “save as much student money as possible.”
From June until October, Yum! Brands (owner of KFC and Taco Bell), Hero Burger, and the design and construction department had to have regulations repeatedly checked as designs were being passed “back and forth” to assess compatibility.
By February of this year, Hero Burger and the dental office had already completed their paperwork but needed to await the approval of Yum! Brands (owner of KFC and Taco Bell) to resume negotiations. Thavarajah said the company was dealing with internal issues at the time.
“There were a lot of little nuances that had to be taken care of,” he said. “It was an elongated process on all sides.”
After receiving final confirmation in mid-October, the SCSU put forward a request for proposal with final design models. Twin Contracting was eventually selected to construct the food outlets and the dental office.
Construction of the dental office and the three food establishments was tentatively set to end by January 2012, ready for a February opening the following month.
Hero Burger, KFC, and Taco Bell were all simultaneously chosen by the SCSU in February to replace A&W, which used to hold the space. The franchise agreement with Yum! Brands was signed at the end of May, on Thavarajah’s first day in office.
The SCSU president said that August 1 as an opening for the restaurants was a “very idealistic date.”
The SCSU intends to hire around 60 part-time student employees. The bigger staff’s shorter shifts will better accommodate students’ schedules, which in turn will increase productivity, according to Thavarajah.
He added that with the franchises operating under a subsidiary corporation called SCSU Restaurants Inc., dividends will be passed through to the SCSU to fund student groups and organizations.
“What we want to have is something that is self-perpetuating and doesn’t need student funding… Imagine that these organizations are now paying up refunds to students which we put back in to student services and students organizations,” he explained. “We’re not here to make excuses.
We were a part of that process and had we learned a little more about it before we opened our mouths, we wouldn’t have put those expectations out there but we’re very excited and we’re not regretting it.”
Apart from creating jobs and increasing food options on campus, the student union president said the opening of the three restaurants have “opened up the eyes” of other food vendors.
UTSC Food and Beverages manager Peter Smith said that Aramark, “the primary contracted food service operator” in the Scarborough campus has been aware of the increasingly competitive food environement since the 2004 opening of outlets including Treats, Subway, Asian Gourmet, A&W and Bluff’s, the precursor to Rex’s Den.
“Last year changes were made in the choices of brands offered by Aramark, bringing in new retail concepts [like Spring Rolls] and upgrading others to expand the choices,” said Smith. “The effect of new branded outlets in the Student Centre, the opening of a new outlet in the Instructional Centre in the new year and any other changes that will arise from the development of the campus will be monitored and business plans assessed.”
Rex’s Den also had a hand in drastically improving UTSC’s overall food quality and service, Thavarajah said.
He noted that while Rex’s Den’s profit returns are marginal, it has already taken profits away from big food vendors such as Aramark, who’ve had to “up their game.”