Campus community discusses delayed opening of new Union restaurants
Following the announcement of the Michigan Union restaurant lineup in mid-October, only Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, Blue Market and Barnes & Noble opened in the newly renovated Union Monday afternoon. Other restaurants opening later in the semester in the Union include favorites such as Subway, Panda Express and the new addition of Panera Bread and Taco Bell.
One of the biggest draws of the Union may be its restaurants. Susan Pile, senior director for University Unions and Auxiliary Services, said the other franchises will be available to students in the coming weeks.
“Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, Blue Market and Barnes and Noble will be open,” Pile said. “The others will be open over the next couple of weeks.”
In an email to The Daily, Pile addressed students’ concerns about why most of the restaurants did not open Monday.
“Each of the vendors is doing an extensive renovation of their respective spaces that includes connections to overall building mechanical systems that couldn't start until we were to a certain point in the overall renovation as well as long lead times for equipment and fabrication,” Pile wrote. “We anticipate most operations will be open in February.”
Pile spoke about the process of selecting restaurants. Through student surveys and committees, Union directors selected which restaurants would be in the Union.
“Some of the restaurants are returning, depending on where they were in their lease agreement,” Pile said. “And some of them we went out for what’s called a request for proposal process where we work with University procurement. Any interested vendors bid on the spaces and we worked through a selection process identifying a diverse array of menu options and price points and menu types.”
Many students said they feared most restaurants may not open until after spring break. LSA senior Alexandra Niforos admitted she was fearful she would not be able to enjoy the Union to its fullest in her last semester.
“It is kind of a bummer for the same reason that I’m a senior and the restaurants aren’t open,” Niforos said. “I only have a month or so to use that resource. I did have two years of it, but at the same time it would have been nice to have this semester which was initially promised.”
Niforos was able to see the Union before its grand re-opening. She was under the impression the Union would be “gutted out,” but was happy to see many of the old structures still intact.
“I got to (see) the remodel last week,” Niforos said. “I love that they kept the integrity of it and just added a few modern aspects.”
Business freshman Gretchen Ascher, an employee at the Union Sweetwaters, worked on opening day. She said the first day went well despite how busy it was.
“It was super busy, but it was really good,” Ascher said. “We had a line out the door all day today. Everyone that was there for the opening ceremony was so excited to see it open as well.”
When asked if students were upset about most of the restaurants not being open, Ascher said a few students she spoke to were unhappy. Even so, Ascher said most students were excited about the new Sweetwaters location.
“A couple of students were upset,” Ascher said. “A lot of people were excited to get their coffee and get their drinks, they were just really excited that we were open.”
As a freshman, this is Ascher’s first time experiencing the Union. She said she and her friends will try to visit the space frequently.
“It’s been hyped up by all the upperclassmen,” Ascher said. “There are so many great study spaces there and when the restaurants all open, I’m sure those will be popular. I live in West Quad, so I plan on spending a ton of time at the Union and I know my friends do too. I hope I see a lot of familiar faces.”
Niforos is also excited for underclassmen to experience something she felt was so important early in her collegiate career.
“I think about all of the freshmen and sophomores who never experienced it and never got that resource because it was so integral to my first two years here,” Niforos said.
Though many restaurants are closed at the moment, Union businesses are looking for new student hires. Pile said Union directors and the businesses are looking forward to hiring.
“We would love to have, and I know the vendors would love to have, student employees and for students to work in their operations,” Pile said.
Pile emphasized the Union as a social hub and said she believes it contributes to the student climate.
“Ultimately, the Union is about building connections and creating a strong sense of community,” Pile said. “That’s my hope for the space, that students will use it in a variety of ways. Whether that’s student org work or through meeting friends for social activities to planning programs in the building, to attending events, to just grabbing a bite to eat. That happens in lots of different ways and we’re excited the Union can offer all of those things to meet student needs.”
This article has been updated to include a quote from Susan Pile about the delayed restaurant openings.