Bodies need fuel in order to endure a workout, and the best way to give it proper energy is through food. The University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola Marymount University offer two different profit centers to provide that fuel to students at their campus recreation centers, but each fits their facilities’ culture.
In 2011, The University of Illinois at Chicago partnered with Tropical Smoothie Café and allowed them to rent a space in their recreation center. Students can order paninis, salads, sandwiches and smoothies off the limited-corporate menu.
Before bringing in Tropical Smoothie, Brian Cousins, the director of campus recreation, explained they had a coffee and smoothie café at the facility, but the fit just didn’t match. The café space sat vacant for approximately 18 months before Tropical Smoothie Café came on board. “In terms of selecting the next vender, we were really careful and intentional about what we were looking for. I was under the assumption we really needed brand recognition with our next vendor and someone who also carried smoothies as one of their signature items,” said Cousins.
To provide their students with the proper fuel, Loyola Marymount University partnered with Coca-Cola to offer a pro-shop to students. In the same area where students can rent equipment, they can also purchase sports drinks, protein bars and other healthy grab-and-go products.
The spot was originally set up to have a juice bar, but the university noticed that the fruit may go bad before they would be able to use or sell the items.
According to Kelsey Lee, the Associate Director of Campus Recreation, the products sell themselves. The university doesn’t market the pro shop, and the students manage the food ordering, but she said they’re financially doing well with the offering.
Most importantly, Lee said she is happy students are able to pay for the items using various forms of payment, from their campus dining money to cash to debit or credit cards. “If people don’t have a reusable water bottle or forget to bring something, they can just purchase the water or Powerade or Core Power, whatever it may be,” explained Lee. “And same thing if they’re hungry, grab something even before or after, on your way to class. I think it’s a good option to have.”
And while he agrees universities should look for a food offering that best suits their university, Cousins recommends partnering with a company that manages their own operation. “That’s one of the great things about the relationship. They are well run,” added Cousins. “I know their corporate office is very involved in terms of how their franchises are run and the high expectations they have. And the guys that own this place, the franchise owners, they’re great guys who have a customer service model in place that is in line with our expectations. It’s nice to have all that and be able to offer such an awesome product and great service, while not having to worry about managing the café and still knowing and being confident that it’s well-done.”