March 26, 2009

New Gourmet Café Opens on College Ave.

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A new gourmet delicatessen opens today on the corner of College and Dryden, bringing new competition to the Collegetown economy.
Green Café, owned by Charles Park, is modeled after its flagship café on Park Avenue in New York City. The restaurant will occupy a building previously leased to Bank of America for 27 years. The building has been vacant for three years, with the Green Café construction beginning around a year ago. Featuring everything from espresso, smoothies, antipasto sandwiches to homemade tofu, the new 24-hour restaurant overlaps the menu of many Collegetown restaurants.
“It’ll definitely [bring] competition. One more restaurant means [fewer] customers per restaurant,” said Jonathan Stout, a manager of Jack’s Grill. “But it’s healthy competition. It pushes you to become a better restaurant.”[img_assist|nid=36277|title=Grand opening|desc=The Green Café, a new restaurant in Collegetown, opens its doors for the first time today.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Michael Carley, manager of Insomnia Cookies, anticipates some new competition with the Green Café because of their similar hours.
“I think we have a pretty solid group of customers,” he said. “We mainly sell cookies to late night drunk kids after the bars let out. The fact that they are open 24 hours may create some rivalry for us.”
Collegetown has a very competitive business environment with a constant ebb and flow of new restaurants. Just last summer, Bistro Fry, a fast food restaurant, was replaced by Jack’s Grill because it had trouble attracting customers. According to Carley, Insomnia Cookies was on the verge of closing when he took over management last year.
However, Holly Kintz, the catering manager of Green Café, is confident that the new restaurant will be successful.
“It’s a whole different concept,” Kintz said. “We have a huge selection. While [other Collegetown restaurants] may have similar things here and there, they don’t have them all under the same roof. We also have a vibrant, metropolitan feel with our 14 flat screen TVs and urban interior design.”
While Carley does anticipate the café will bring some head-to-head competition for Insomnia Cookies, he believes Green Café will have a large impact on the coffee establishments in Collegetown.
“I think [Green Café] will have the biggest effect on Starbucks,” Carley said. “While their menus may overlap, Stella’s is pretty well known in the area. A lot of people from outside Collegetown come and eat there.”
Some students noted Green Café’s proximity when deciding which establishment to frequent.
“Green Café is closer to where I live,” said Serena Chao ’11, who lives on Green Café’s side of Dryden. “That’s always a plus.”
The timing of creating this new restaurant might strike some as odd given the economic times. The casual and especially gourmet dining industry is suffering due to declining consumer confidence, according to MSNBC. Although Collegetown has a relatively recession-proof bubble economy according to The Ithaca Times, the area is not completely immune to the effects of the recession.
“I don’t think it’s a good time to open a restaurant right now,” said Stout. “The economy may have more effects on them because they sell gourmet food. Kids are watching their budgets.”
Carley has been witnessing the same trend among his customers. “You see a lot more kids buying cookies with pennies and nickels,” he said. “Business this time of the year is usually worse because kids run out of money after taking spring breaks, but the economy definitely slowed things down a bit.”
According to The Guardian, lean times for the economy mean “fat times” for the people. With less money in their pockets, more and more consumers are turning to fast food: Domino’s’ profits increased by almost a quarter in 2008, KFC announced a major expansion and Starbucks recently launched a new brand of instant coffee to replace the more expensive versions made with real coffee beans. The candy industry is also booming, according to The New York Times.
“We planned the restaurant in September 2007, before the wheels started turning,” Kintz said. “But we’re not too worried. We have a very solid concept, and we will create our own market. We do offer gourmet quality food, but we offer them at affordable prices. It’s also a grab and go restaurant, so there’s no need to pay gratuity fees,” she added.
Green Café offers gourmet sandwiches at $7.50, and 16-ounce smoothies at $4.50.
In addition to a grand opening, Green Café also launched a heavy advertising campaign catered toward college students including a Facebook account, a Twitter account, outreach to fraternities and sororities, as well as partnership with the Cornell Hospitality Consultants.
Residents of Collegetown expressed mixed feelings about the new eatery.
“It’s always good to have more options,” Alicia Wiprovnick ’10 said.
“The urban feel is definitely an attraction especially for students from the city,” Susanie Watt ’09 said. “However, I think it might be more useful to have the rumored small Wegman’s instead of yet another café,” she said.
Additionally, Watt noted, “I’m definitely trying to be conservative with my money, but we all have to eat. Food is the last thing we would cut back on, so the prices shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”