The competition has been settled for limited food vendor space on West Campus.
The Loop Pizza Grill was chosen from a group of competing vendors to take over the space now occupied by Armadillo Grill when the West Union Building—one of the main campus dining hubs—closes for major renovations in July. Armadillo Grill will leave campus, the Loop will move there from the West Union and the remaining West Union eateries—the Great Hall, Alpine Bagels, Plate and Pitchfork, Chick-fil-A and Subway—will be closed for the renovations as the building is “gutted from the top to the basement,” said Rick Johnson, assistant vice president of student affairs for housing, dining and residence life.
In anticipation of West Union’s closing, a variety of vendors were given an opportunity to compete for the Bryan Center space occupied by Armadillo Grill—a Tex-Mex fast food restaurant commonly known as “The Dillo”—said Dennis Lane, current owner of The Loop. Applebee’s, Denny’s, The Dillo, The Loop, Plate and Pitchfork, Saladelia and TGI Friday’s were among the vendors who placed bids.
“We want The Loop to be the place to eat on campus—period,” Lane said. “We once were. But now we’re not. And we’ll spend the money to get there.”
He noted that the new space will double the amount of dining space compared to their current location.
A formal selection committee chose which vendor would be afforded the Bryan Center location, Johnson said. The committee consisted of administrators, HDRL staff, faculty and undergraduate students from Duke Student Government and the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee.
All bidders submitted floor plans that outlined how they would make use of the dining space, including how they would utilize the bar area in the lower level of the restaurant—an area that used to attract large swaths of students on nights and weekends, but has seen lower patronage.
For the bar, Lane said he initially planned to open an ice cream parlor, but that idea was not supported by the University. Instead, The Loop will keep the existing bar, and they may add arcade games and large televisions to increase student traffic.
The Loop was chosen because it offers a wide assortment of food options as opposed to the more specific cuisine type of The Dillo, Johnson said, noting that because there will be fewer total dining options, it is important that each space is marketable to a large body of potential diners.
“[The Dillo] doesn’t appeal to as large an audience as we need to appeal to,” he said. A representative from The Dillo could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts.
The move from the West Union to the Bryan Center requires a large investment for the Loop. Lane estimated that the location change will cost approximately $400,000. Additional costs will be incurred because the Loop plans to expand in order to feed a much larger portion of the Duke community, he added. Lane said he does not have any plans set in stone, but he is working with the Loop corporate headquarters to consider an expanded menu and larger staff.
Both Subway and Chick-fil-A, which currently have space in the West Union, did not have their contracts renewed, and they will not return to campus following West Union renovations.
Johnson said he recognizes that the temporary closing of West Union will put a strain on HDRL and the Duke community that wishes to eat on West Campus.
The Events Pavilion, an under-construction building that is slated for completion shortly before the West Union closes, will temporarily house a large selection of dining options as West Union undergoes renovations. The Pavilion will be arranged somewhat like the Great Hall, Johnson said, with venues serving bistro food, comfort food, pizza, pasta and deli sandwiches.
The Events Pavilion will have the capacity to serve more than 2,000 meals daily. Au Bon Pain, which Johnson said was added one year before West Union’s closure to help offset the loss in meals, makes an additional 2,000 transactions daily.
Nick Sandilands, general manager at ABP, said the chain restaurant expects a great increase in traffic once West Union renovations begin. ABP has plans to deal with this increased traffic, but Sandilands said he cannot yet disclose these plans.