The Food Factory on Central Campus has been through tough times.
When it opened last year—after moving to Duke from its lucrative Cary location—business was slow and sparse, and the spotless tables and chairs sat with few customers to fill them. The lack of business threatened the survival of the restaurant, and the future was bleak.
“We felt like we were out here in the middle of no-man’s-land,” manager Lisa Schmid said.
Now, business at the Food Factory is 25 percent higher than it was at the same time last year, Schmid said. He added that the restaurant is a lively spot for groups of fraternity and sorority members, as well as the unaffiliated. The rise in sales follows the implementation of the house model, which created an influx of affiliated groups on Central this year—the campus now hosts six fraternity houses, nine sorority houses and six selective living groups.
The turnaround since the beginning of the school year has not gone unnoticed by students who frequent the establishment.
“It seems like it’s more of a partying atmosphere, people come in in groups that didn’t before,” said freshman Timesh Patel, who enjoys the restaurant’s vibe.
The restaurant has a sports bar layout—students can choose to sit either on a row of barstools or in the main dining area, and both are humming at most times every evening.
The sale of alcohol has also contributed to the success—Schmid described it as a “big draw” for customers. Offering alcohol on campus also helps promote safety, she added, because students of age can purchase alcohol without having to drive off campus. The Food Factory also delivers, allowing students spending time studying to get a meal without having to travel to Central.
“We try to listen to the advice students give and respond to it,” Schmid said. “You may think you know everything there is to know, but unless you listen to feedback then you don’t.”
This attitude of responsiveness may have driven a fair amount of the growth at the Food Factory over the past year.
“The food is good, but the best thing about the place is the atmosphere,” said Douglas Carter, a freshman enjoying a cheeseburger.
The management has tried to foster a party feel. The restaurant has begun hosting events geared towards students, such as having a DJ last weekend. There will be a special event every Saturday night, Schmid said.
Events may serve as a draw for more students and customers.
“It seems like a place where you can have a dinner with friends on a Saturday and feel like you’re in the middle of things,” said Ali Kaussari, a student from Davidson College who came to Durham to visit a friend.
The Food Factory has turned a corner from a year ago. It remains to be seen if the Factory will continue to manufacture success.