Want chairs? Perhaps… 99 of them?

In case you were unaware, 99 Chairs and Trek Express will be closed for the summer in order to undergo renovations. 99 Chairs is kaput, to be replaced by a White Spot. Pizza Pizza and Timmy’s will be staying put and the sandwich place will get a new name familiar to those in Vanier: Stackables.

So, without further ado, here’s your Craigslist ad of the day. Chairs and tables from Trek Express and 99 Chairs can be yours for as low as $5! Not only that, Andrew Parr, the head honcho over at UBC Food Services is actually volunteering to take calls on the weekend to sell their stuff on Craigslist. Folks, that is what is known as dedication, or possibly just workaholism. Give this man a promotion!

Actually… UBC did just promote him. But that is another topic for another post!

A few weeks ago, I went to 99 Chairs for the first and last time, mostly to be able to write this post without being completely uninformed. (According to my co-worker, the main reason most people went to 99 Chairs was to buy beer on your meal card.) Although the food was passable, I did get the sense that this was a worn-out restaurant – no pizazz or excitement. It could certainly use some sprucing up. But… a White Spot?


I don’t think UBC Food Services runs franchises very well. Like many university campuses, with a near-monopoly on campus food service, there is only a token effort to be competitive. (Check out this other Craigslist ad too . They go out of their way to tout “No competition” as one of the best qualities of their UBC business.) Personally, I thought the whole idea of having a franchised restaurant is that all the locations are pretty much the same. UBC Food is running the black sheep of all of these corporate families. (For the record, UBC Food describes their franchises as being “non-traditional”.)

Much like my beloved Shopper’s Drug Mart which refused to honour Shopper’s Drug Mart flyers, nowhere except A&W accepts coupons. The Subway in the SUB doesn’t ever participate in the never-ending Subway promotions and in fact, their regular prices are slightly higher than average. The Tim Hortons at Trek Express doesn’t accept Tim Hortons gift cards which are being heavily promoted chain-wide, though I’ll note they do participate in Roll Up the Rim; there probably would be a revolt if they ignored that one. Have you ever been to another Manchu Wok that closes at 2:30 pm and is never open on weekends? How about a Tim Hortons that closes at 3:30 pm and is likewise restricted to Monday to Friday? Heck, McDonald’s in the Village is open to 3 AM!

So you may have guessed by now that I’m not terribly excited about White Spot. Don’t worry, there will be no Durganesque rant about the horrible dangers of corporations. Instead, I am wondering how much time and effort is going into this plan. After all the dust has settled, what real changes will we see? My prediction: not much. The food will still be mediocre, the hours terrible, they won’t participate in White Spot promotions, and you’ll have to start tipping. It seems like a completely lateral move from what 99 Chairs was, except that it will take a large amount of money (franchise fee of $75,000 and an initial investment of $750,000 – $2,500,000) and effort to get there. What’s the point?

UBC’s ancillaries, UBC Food included, could definitely serve students and the larger UBC community better with a different set of priorities. If you read the documentation of UBC Food’s visit to BoG in February, there is a long list of objectives they are working on. Reading it as a potential customer of theirs, I could not find a single objective where I read it and thought “Oh, that’s a good idea.” I guess potential customers is not a market segment they are hoping to attract.

Some things about ancillary structure are indeed changing soon, driven by UBC Admin. The full details aren’t out there quite yet, but I’m sure you’ll hear more as it develops.

I will give UBC Food some brownie points for the simple fact that they are not Aramark or Sodexo. Still, I can’t help but thinking that they are wasting a lot of resources on initiatives that, in my opinion, have no real benefit in the end. If they really have so much money and time they wish to expend to improve food service on this campus, I have ideas for some more tangible ways to do it:

  1. Lower prices. That’s pretty self-explanatory. While I would not describe myself as a poor, starving student, I am cheap and would love the food to be more affordable.
  2. Keep longer hours. As a grad student, I habitually work evenings and weekends. I also work year round. Over the summer, dinnertime service at UBC Food outlets stops. Surprisingly, my body’s need for dinner does not.
  3. Stop running “non-traditional” franchises. Start accepting coupons and participating in specials at ALL of the chain locations. Please stop abusing the fact that there is very little competition at UBC.
  4. Follow the AMS’s lead and invest in water fountains at any location big enough to handle it. Put a fountain in Trek Express over the summer, and follow it up with some more around the dining area of Pacific Spirit Place.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. “# Over the summer, dinnertime service at UBC Food outlets stops. Surprisingly, my body’s need for dinner does not.”

    Haha, amazing post!

    Posted by Green Machine | April 20, 2009, 1:04 pm
  2. The breakfasts at 99 Chairs were pretty good and cheap (~$5 for eggs, toast, juice, hashbrowns and bacon/sausage/ham). Other than that, the food was unremarkable and more expensive than they should be.

    Posted by Glen | April 21, 2009, 7:06 pm
  3. “UBC continues to expand its foodservice operations with six capital projects on the go to be completed by January 2010. They include a White Spot, and a new restaurant and nightspot with the feel of the Cactus Club or Milestones, Parr said.”

    Haven’t heard that one. Will have to ask.

    LinkI also wanted to add an addendum to this post. Rereading it, it sounds like all I’m doing is bashing UBC Food. While I still stand by everything, I’d also like to say that I think UBC Food is trying, really trying, to better itself and to be responsive to the community. That is why it is disappointing to me that the effort they’re putting in doesn’t strike me as being a significant improvement.

    While I poke fun at Andrew Parr’s work habits, I’m pretty sure it’s dedication that drives him (though workaholism can’t be discounted either), which is a whole lot better than having someone who phones it in. They also seem to take sustainability very seriously.

    So I’m not a total sourpuss on UBC Food, but certainly have my own ideas about how it could be improved.

    Posted by Neal Yonson | April 23, 2009, 12:23 am
  4. Thank you all for your comments; as long as they remain constructive (as these are they) they assist us in making decisions about how and what we offer.

    Two comments:

    1. White Spot – While no single restaurant can meet the needs of an entire marketplace, research tells us that this brand will be well received by a large portion of our marketplace, including many students, faculty and staff.

    2. The Cactus Club type restaurant is at the late stages of the design phase, will be located at Marine Drive Residence, will be called “The Point Grill” and is due to open in January 2010.

    From Food Services

    Posted by A. Parr | April 23, 2009, 8:55 pm
  5. Just a couple more comments / responses from your friends at UBC Food Services:

    1. The Bread Garden that is referred to, ironically in the context of Neal’s blog, is actually competition. It is not operated by UBC Food Services but instead by an independant franchisee. Mahony’s, Boulevard Cafe, AMS outlets, outlets in the Village and the Starbucks in TEF 3 are all examples of competition on this campus. We cannot think of an occasion when we have touted “monopoly” or “no competition” as a good thing.

    2. Franchise pricing – see the recent article in the Ubyssey Newspaper for pricing analysis. It shows that on campus franchises operate at or below street pricing in every location except Subway. We have always been honest about the labour cost challenges of operating a Subway and, as a result, the slight premium price structure we have there.

    3. Hours of Operation – both White Spot and The Point Grill, when they open, will be offering dinner and/or late night service and weekend service. This past school year had Ike’s Cafe open late night and weekends, both Residence dining rooms offer 7 day a week breakfast, lunch and dinner service, 99 Chairs was open until 8pm, Starbucks at PSP was open until 9pm and on Saturdays and many other units operated until 4 or 5pm, long after a majority of students, faculty and staff began their long commutes home.

    4. Water – Free tap water is available at all UBCFS outlets. Good, old fashioned, healthy tap water. Ask for it next time you find yourself in one of our operations.


    Posted by A. Parr | April 24, 2009, 9:45 am
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