As students returned to campus this semester, many were dismayed to discover their favorite spots to eat on campus had been temporarily closed.
Krafthouse is on the bottom floor of the Brodhead Center and normally features dine-in seating and large TVs, making it a convenient spot for students to hang out after basketball games or when they are in the mood for comfort food. Similarly, the Divinity Cafe and the law school's Cafe De Novo are known to provide students with alternatives to their normal dining options in Marketplace and the Brodhead Center.
In an email to The Chronicle, Executive Director of Dining Robert Coffey shared Duke’s reasoning behind the closing of these popular dining venues.
“Most of the locations that are closed this fall are due to buildings not wanting extra foot traffic and/or because their reopening restrictions were limiting numbers of people in the building, making an unsustainable business model,” Coffey wrote.
When students arrived on campus to discover these locations closed for the semester, there was tangible disappointment.
“After moving in early as [a resident assistant] this semester, I went to Krafthouse and saw the closed sign and figured that I was just too early in the semester and that it would eventually open back up,” junior Parker Betts said. “I was distraught to find that it never did open back up.”
Betts said that although he enjoyed Divinity Cafe and the law school cafe, the “shining star” was Krafthouse, as it was an escape from the options in the Brodhead Center and felt like a real restaurant.
“It didn’t try too hard to be the ‘anything’ place,” Betts said. “Sazón is the ‘Latin American’ place, Il Forno is the ‘Italian’ place, McDonald’s is the ‘fast food’ place, but Krafthouse was just ‘the place.’”
Sophomore Sophia Vera expressed similar interest in the reopening of the closed dining locations, specifically the Divinity Cafe.
“My friend told me that the breakfast at the Div Cafe was really good, but I haven’t had the chance to try it yet,” Vera said. “It would be great if the cafe opened and I could eat there. I’m not a big fan of oatmeal, but I’ve heard their oatmeal is good.”
Despite having to close some venues Coffey struck a positive tone regarding Duke Dining’s operation during the pandemic. He said that even though business this semester has decreased by 70% “due to the reduced number of returning students, faculty, and staff and reduction of catering,” two-thirds of the dining locations remain open.
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“Several of the vendors in the closed locations have other locations on-campus that are open this fall which has allowed them to return along with their team members,” Coffey wrote.
In response to queries about potential dining area reopenings, Coffey wrote that, based on the current information, the availability of venues during the spring semester will look very similar to the fall semester.
However, he made it clear that Duke Dining is “monitoring business trends closely” and would make operating adjustments if deemed more efficient. He cited mobile ordering from Thrive Kitchen & Catering and the Brodhead Center as few examples of these adjustments.
“The mobile ordering service has been growing this fall semester, averaging close to 50% of the daily transactions for the 15 venues offering this service,” Coffey wrote. “There will be another five locations added to mobile ordering for the spring semester.”
Betts said that if The Loop Pizza Grill could make the transition to mobile orders and take away dine-in seating, then he believes Krafthouse could too.
“Krafthouse had minimal seating, so most people would order to go anyway,” Betts said. “Additionally, if Duke is bringing more students to campus [next semester], then it would lighten the load on the employees and congestion at different venues for students looking somewhere to eat.”
In addition to reopening the various dining locations on campus, Betts also said he wants current dining areas to extend nighttime hours, as he is tired of eating from vending machines at night.
Coffey wrote that to balance out the smaller number of dining locations, Duke Dining has been working to create different opportunities for students around and off-campus. For example, the hours at Marketplace have been extended, and Trinity Café accepts equivalency during breakfast, brunch, dinner, in addition to its usual nighttime hours. Another effort includes the food trucks at 300 Swift Ave.
“We have students residing in different locations off-campus this semester and have deployed the food trucks to rotate at some of the off-campus locations weeknights versus on-campus, but they will be back,” Coffey wrote. “The [Merchants on Points] are also delivering to those off-campus locations along with on-campus deliveries.”
Looking to the future of Merchants on Points, Coffey wrote that the Duke University Student Dining Advising Committee is “always looking for new restaurants to add to the program.”