New restaurants to open in the Michigan Union next fall

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By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 13, 2012

The days of Frosty desserts and Mrs. Fields cookie cakes in the Michigan Union may be numbered.

The leases for several businesses in the Union — including Amer’s Mediterranean Deli, Subway, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s and the multi-restaurant space that includes Mrs. Fields, Freshens smoothies and Auntie Anne's pretzels — will expire in April, creating space for three new businesses in the food court to debut next fall.

The only current vendor that will remain in the Union is Panda Express, which signed a lease that expires in 2018.

University Unions is currently accepting requests for proposals from local and chain restaurants.

The space currently occupied by Amer’s on the first floor of the Union will be transformed into a Marketcafé operated by University Unions that will feature MHealthy food and drink options, a deli, coffee and specialty drinks along with other on-the-go options.

Susan Pile, the director of the Michigan Union and the Center for Campus Involvement, said about 40 interested businesses attended a pre-proposal meeting held last week to learn more about the opportunity.

After the Dec. 13 proposal deadline, a committee comprised of students and Union employees will assess the proposals and contact approved businesses in late January to discuss contract negotiations.

Pile said she and the student advisory board have identified four dining concepts — chicken and burgers, a deli/sandwich shop, an international vendor and a “pizza plus,” which includes pizza, pasta and breadsticks — that are of particular interest to students and will take priority in the decision process.

“Our goal is really to provide a nice complementary set of options down in the (basement of the Union),” Pile said. “We don’t want to have a vendor that’s competing directly with another vendor. I think that would actually limit options for students.”

Pile also said the seating adjacent to the food vendors in the area near Wendy’s and Subway will be renovated. According to her, improvements will be made to seating, lighting, architectural elements and flooring.

“If you go down there now it’s pretty dark … it feels a little dated, a little enclosed,” Pile said. “We can actually get ... a vaulted ceiling and some lighting that’ll be much improved. Maybe some different types of seating ... some counter-top or high-top seating, or a nice long community table.”

Laura Seagram, a marketing communications specialist for University Unions, said the expected cost of the renovations is still unknown because design and engineering plans are not finalized. She added that the University’s Board of Regents is not required to approve the choice of vendors in the Union, but will be kept informed through E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs.

The Union has made healthy eating a priority in the search. Seagram said nutrition standards will play a prominent role in the decision making process.

“Another thing we are asking all of the applicants to bring forth is their healthy options, even an expansion of what they may have now, because that’s really important on campus,” Seagram said. “The whole point is to have a balance of options.”

Keith Soster, the food service director for the University Unions, said student feedback has indicated that the Unions should provide more seasonal selections, which he hopes will come to fruition in the Marketcafé.

“It’s more than a coffee shop or a café per se, and we want it to have that market atmosphere,” Soster said. “… Envision a deli case with a fresh array of salads fixings and then you can have your salad prepared right there for you. Or you can have a grab-and-go type option.”

LSA senior Archana Bharadwaj, the chair of the Michigan Union Board of Representatives, said incorporating more locally grown and nutritional produce into Union food options was a priority for the student board.

“I think these changes will be really reflective of what we, as students, want to see in the Union,” Bharadwaj said.

LSA senior Caroline Canning, the vice chair of the Board of Representatives and the president of LSA Student Government, said she and other committee members want to make the Union more unique to the University, and they are excited about the upcoming changes.

“The finishes that we’re looking at are things that are more modernized but also a more timeless sort of feeling,” Canning said. “If we wanted to renovate more of that downstairs area, we could continue using the tiles and using the same wall fixtures ... to make it look cohesive.”

It is unknown whether the food vendors in the Michigan League or the Pierpont Commons will also change. Seagram said the changes are a model for the Division of Student Affairs to potentially follow in the residence halls.

“We’re all trying to meet the needs of students as best as we can as the chances present themselves,” Seagram said.

Kinesiology junior Alexandra Putich said she never buys food from Union vendors because they aren’t particularly accommodating to her nutrition needs.

“I’m gluten free ... so I know they don’t serve those options here,” Putich said. “If they accommodated those kinds of things I’d be more likely to eat here.”

LSA senior Ryan Marina said he eats at the Union about once every two months, but he would be interested and more likely to eat there if ethnic food were available.

“I mainly get the feel that it’s fast food down here,” Marina said. “Maybe something else would spice it up.”