As new eateries prepare to open on campus, AMS outlets strive to remain competitive

First reported to be coming to UBC by The Ubyssey in February 2017, the 12 new food outlets — including popular brands like Starbucks, Bao Down and Rain or Shine — now have a more clear time range for their arrivals. 

The outlets will not be opened all at once since only five are operated by UBC Food Services and the remaining seven by independent contractors.

However, the majority of them are most likely to be opened between the end of Summer 2017 and early 2018 based on information from Student Housing & Hospitality Services (SHHS) and UBC Properties Trust (UBCPT).

According to Andrew Parr, managing director of SHHS, three of the five outlets in the UBC Life Building — previously the Old Sub — are expected to be launched along with the building’s re-opening in January 2018. The three are Starbucks, Subway and Booster Juice. 

The remaining two are yet to be determined, but there is “real estate set aside for them when needed in future.” Based on The Ubyssey’s first article about these spots, they will be occupied by a salad bar and a Southeast Asian fusion place.

Meanwhile, the seven outlets located in the University Boulevard area will most likely arrive “late Summer [or] early Fall” on a rolling basis because they have separate owners and construction crews, according to Christine Chan, UBCPT’s director of marketing. 

Overall, both Parr and Chan expressed positivity toward these new outlets as bringing more services and choices to the UBC community. 

“There are a lot of food spots around the campus — for instance, in the AMS Nest,” said Parr in a previous interview with The Ubyssey. “But I think bringing the new food spots to campus is only good because we are bringing diversity and giving students options.”  

However, the arrivals of these popular outlets also raise certain financial doubts for the AMS, especially after AMS VP Finance Alim Lakhiyalov’s recent prediction of a $356,000 budget surplus for the 2017/18 school year. 

“I would be weary of food outlets doing well next year with Bao Down, JJ Bean and Rain or Shine opening up within a minute of the Nest,” commented Gurvir Sangha, a recent graduate, on The Ubyssey’s Facebook post of the AMS’s budget surplus prediction article. 

Faraz Nikzad, a fourth-year commerce student and a former candidate for AMS VP Administration, shared Sangha’s sentiment. 

How will the AMS remain competitive? 

In response to these concerns, AMS President Alan Ehrenholz remains optimistic about the AMS’s food outlets’ ability to perform while acknowledging that the society doesn’t have any financial projection for them at this point.

“We feel that due to the increasing offers around the AMS Nest, more of the overall student population will be coming to this area for food,” he said. “With this assumption, we feel that overall our businesses will be positively affected by these new openings.”

When questioned whether this assumption could be countered by these new outlets’ popularity over that of the AMS’s businesses, Ehrenholz believes that the AMS’s commitment “to giving students the cheapest food on campus” would allow it to continue pulling customers to the Nest and compete against the bigger brands. 

At the same time, there have been both past and current efforts to increase the brand recognition for these businesses. For instance, the sushi outlet Peko Peko was renamed as Honour Roll and the Perch as the Gallery. Now, the AMS is thinking about rebranding Uppercase to Blue Chip Cafe to play on that feeling of nostalgia for Blue Chip Cookies, and bringing the kitchen back to the Pit. 

Furthermore, there are also plans to diversify the Nest’s offerings based on the results of the 2017 AMS Nest Experience Survey, which received over 3,000 responses. 

“This is what we are really using when evaluating and making decisions to those food outlets,” Ehrenholz said. “We feel the diversification of our offerings is key to remaining competitive, and we feel that that will allow us to have an edge when it comes to marketing our food outlets.”

More specifically, FlipSide will become a burger bar food truck in the plaza, while its current location will be taken over a Mexican food outlet that focuses on tacos and burritos in September. Palate will also be rebranded and refocused to its vegan and vegetarian roots. 

The exact opening dates for these outlets are still unknown, and their names are yet to be determined. Overall, in the face of these uncertainties, Ehrenholz re-iterated the AMS’s commitments as the guiding policy forward. 

“We are committing to having student-friendly pricing in the Nest … and responding to what students want for their meals and snacks,” he said. “Most importantly, any profit that is made in the outlets is returned to the student service and student government side of the AMS — that’s the key priority for us.”