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New eateries for Union, League

BY ELIZABETH LAI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published May 11, 2008

As students finished their exams and left campus at the end of April, so too, did three campus eateries. After disappointing sales and low satisfaction ratings on student surveys, Magic Wok and Villa Pizza moved out of their Michigan Union locations and Bonici Brothers Pizza will soon leave the Michigan League.

When they return to campus next fall, students will find three new restaurant choices on campus. Domino's Pizza, Panda Express and Taco Bell will move into University venues this August.

Panda Express is set to take the space next to Wendy's that previously housed Villa Pizza. Domino's Pizza is negotiating for the former Magic Wok location. The League Underground space currently occupied by Bonici Brothers Pizza will be filled by Taco Bell.

John Taylor, director of University Unions, said restaurants in the Union usually sign a five-year contract under which the University receives a percentage of their profits. After the initial contract expires, both University Unions and restaurant management decide if they are interested in renewing it for an additional three years.

Magic Wok and Villa Pizza, whose five-year contracts expired April 30, didn't apply for contract renewal because of poor sales and negative student feedback, Taylor said.

University Unions sent a survey to students via e-mail last fall, which asked them to rate their experience with the restaurants in the Union and League. The surveys also allowed students to suggest potential fast food eateries.

"In these cases, from a student survey as well as the sales that they were making in comparison to our other operators, they weren't looking to be as successful," Taylor said. "And students were interested in some different choices for some different quality."

LSA junior Ari Goldstein said he looks forward to the change. He said he used to visit Pierpont Commons on North Campus just to eat at Panda Express, so he's glad that the restaurant is opening a location in the Union. He said he was especially pleased to see Magic Wok go.

"Magic Wok sucked," Goldstein said. "They'd take the same fried chicken and pour a different sauce over it and call it a different name."

Large chain restaurants like Wendy's and Subway have done extremely well at the Union. According to Subway manager Jeremy Nofzinger, the sandwich chain's Union location is the most successful in the state.

The Michigan Union Board of Representatives began considering potential replacements for Magic Wok and Villa Pizza in February, said Michigan Student Assembly President Sabrina Shingwani, a member of MUBR.

During the review process, MUBR members sampled food and reviewed market figures, contract proposals and menu options from a number of local Chinese restaurants and pizza vendors. She said Domino's Pizza and Panda Express stood out as the most likely candidates from the beginning.

"Because we had such a great experience with Panda at Pierpont Commons, we were pretty much leaning toward Panda," she said.

Shingwani said Domino's Pizza seemed especially well-suited to the Union because it was willing to sell whole pizzas, which could be useful for the many student organizations that meet there. Domino's Pizza has also been a longtime sponsor of University student groups like the Residence Halls Association and MSA, she said.

Because the League has its own governing body, Shingwani said there was no direct student input in selecting Benici Brothers' replacement.

"With Taco Bell specifically, (University Unions) really didn't need any student input to decide whether or not they wanted them to come because every survey that they do, students are just like 'Taco Bell, please!'" Shingwani said.