In September, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) opened a pub-style restaurant, 1265 Bistro, on the lower level of the Student Centre at 1265 Military Trail. 1265 Bistro replaced Rex’s Den as the SCSU-owned restaurant at UTSC.
In interviews with The Varsity, SCSU President Michael Sobowale and Vice-President Operations Mathooshan Manoharan explained their choices behind the Bistro’s menu items, prices, and design. Students shared their thoughts on the Bistro’s food in interviews with The Varsity.
Rex’s Den operated from 2009–2020
Earlier this year, 1265 Bistro replaced Rex’s Den, which operated from 2009–2020. Zuhair Syed, the SCSU president in 2009, was excited about the novelty of the pub restaurant in Rex’s Den at the time. “A campus restaurant and bar has been missing on campus for a while and we’re pleased to again have a place where students can hang out and enjoy,” he said at the opening ceremony of Rex’s Den.
“We’re also trying to enhance UTSC campus life within the academic community, and so the restaurant will be a great place for social and multicultural events,” he said.
However, the SCSU decided to close down Rex’s Den in 2020 due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants Canada — a non-profit organization that represents over 30,000 food service professionals in Canada — reported that, as of August 2020, around 10 per cent of food service establishments had permanently closed due to the impacts of COVID-19.
In an interview with The Varsity, Sobowale described the closure of Rex’s Den as initially “temporary.” He said that after two years, however, the SCSU “felt that this was an opportunity to do renovations and improve the space.” The SCSU envisioned a more student-friendly restaurant, and its autonomy over the space allowed the student union to create an entirely new restaurant shaped by student feedback.
Behind the scenes of 1265 Bistro’s menu items, pricing, and design
Sobowale said that the union had conducted a survey to find out what students wanted to see with the new restaurant. The SCSU then used the survey results to inform the menu items, pricing, and design of the Bistro.
According to Sobowale, in keeping with the survey, the SCSU added gluten-free and vegan options “to give [students] alternatives so they can eat without going outside of campus to find meal options.” Similar to Rex’s Den’s menu, 1265 Bistro will also continue offering staple pub items like poutine and sandwiches.
In addition, the survey found that students wanted affordable food. To implement this, Manoharan said that the SCSU chose to subsidize 1265 Bistro’s menu items in order to match the prices of other restaurants at the Student Centre.
“We want to make it even cheaper, if anything, but it just wouldn’t work for us from an operational perspective,” he added.
The SCSU built the space to be more study friendly. Before, Rex’s Den did not have electrical outlets for students to charge their devices in, which limited students’ ability to stay at the restaurant for longer periods of time. The SCSU has ensured that there are now electrical outlets available for students to use at the Bistro, as well as long tables to facilitate group study sessions.
The SCSU is working to move 1265 Bistro to online platforms as well, such that students could order food remotely and then pick their orders up, which eliminates wait times. Sobowale said that this measure also aims to accommodate students who are unable to sit down at the restaurant.
JAB Management — a Toronto-based management and consulting company that specializes in hospitality operations — played a large role in the rebranding. The firm helped the SCSU do renovations, find furniture, and manage the Bistro in accordance with the SCSU’s vision. It previously helped the SCSU in managing Rex’s Den as well.
“Obviously, managing a restaurant, for just a bunch of students, that’s beyond us. We rely on [JAB Management] to give us that technical expertise,” Manoharan said.
David Casseus, a second-year psychology major at UTSC, started working at 1265 Bistro in early September. “It’s been relatively busy,” he wrote in a text message to The Varsity. Casseus explained that he can only attest from his early weekday shifts and “can’t speak for Thursday or Friday.”
“I do think that it’s great that they’re able to provide jobs for students,” he wrote. “Management is great, compared to other restaurants that I’ve worked at.”
The Varsity interviewed students who were dining at the Bistro for their thoughts on the Bistro’s food and service.
Muatasim Shaik, a first-year management and international business specialist at UTSC, said that the Bistro’s food is overly salty. “[But] I heard from a lot of people that… you can ask [Bistro staff] to reduce the salt.”
Shaik clarified that he only ate food from the Bistro once, and that he may buy from the Bistro again because “their portions are good.”
Wyatt Jeanveau, a first-year management student at UTSC, confirmed that the Bistro’s food is salty, but that he likes it because he generally likes salty food. “Most of their food is good. I really recommend the fried chicken sandwich.”
The SCSU has posted a survey form at the Bistro where students can provide general feedback. Manoharan said that the SCSU will draw a raffle from the survey respondents, such that students who had filled out the survey could get the chance to win a free meal.
Manoharan specifically wanted to know how long customers had to wait for their food, when they had ordered their food, and what they thought of the food quality, among others. He urged students to fill out the survey when they eat at the restaurant so that the SCSU can improve the Bistro.
With files from Lexey Burns.