January 29, 2014

New Cornell Cafés Cook Up Business

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Recent additions to Cornell’s on-campus eateries, Café Jennie and Fork and Gavel Café, have seen increasing student enthusiasm and growing levels of business, according to campus dining operators.

Café Jennie, which is located on the top level of the Cornell Store, offers a more upscale style dining experience in addition to a small market similar to Bear Necessities on North Campus, according to George Knowles, manager of Café Jennie. Fork and Gavel Café, the second on-campus dining facility from the owners of Manndible Café, is located in the Law School and offers locally-sourced made-to-order meals, acording to co-owner Kathleen Pasetty.

Students wait in line to order food from Cafe Jennie during the lunch hour rush. (Diana Mak / Sun Staff Photographer)

Students populate the Skylight on the upper level of the Cornell Store to study in between classes. (Diana Mak / Sun Staff Photographer)

The Beef Brisket Sandiwch is another popular commodity at Cafe Jennie. (Diana Mak / Sun Staff Photographer)

The Brazilian Wrap from Cafe Jennie. (Diana Mak / Sun Staff Photographer)

The Chicken Milano sandwich is the most ordered dish from Cafe Jennie located in the Cornell Store. (Diana Mak / Sun Staff Photographer)

The Cornell Store selected Café Jennie to fill the empty space for a dining location that the store had added during renovations. Employing 28 students, Café Jennie became fully operational in mid-November, coinciding with the grand reopening of the Cornell Store.

Knowles said Café Jennie’s level of business has greatly differed from his initial expectations. The number of patrons has increased to the point that demand has outstretched capacity and the type of clientele that frequent Café Jennie has encompassed a wider population than predicted, he said.

“I thought [customers were] going to be more faculty, administration and graduate students, but it’s been a lot of undergraduates [coming to Café Jennie],” Knowles said.

He added that word of mouth has been the most effective way of generating business among undergraduate students.

While decreasing wait times is a top priority, Knowles said he has also been speaking to campus chefs to determine which items the café should add to its current menu of homemade soups, sandwiches, wraps, Cheesecake Factory desserts and Peet’s Coffee & Tea products.

Knowles also said he hopes to start working on the market portion of Café Jennie by positioning it differently from other campus markets by including local foods and higher-end items.

The chicken milano sandwich, Cheesecake Factory offerings and matcha green tea latte are the most popular items at the café, according to Knowles and Danny Donovan ’16, a student employee at Café Jennie.

Danielle Kronenfeld ’15 eats at the café weekly and has made Café Jennie one of her primary dining destinations.

“I choose to eat at Café Jennie because I like the atmosphere and it’s not too crowded, and it’s open later than other dining options,” Kronenfeld said.

Fork and Gavel Café, which is located in the law school, also opened during the fall semester and has seen steadily growing success, according to co-owner Kathleen Pasetty.

After Hughes Dining, an eatery in the law school, closed last spring, Cornell began looking for new businesses to fill the gap, Pasetty said.

“Prior to this, we were producing all of our food past Ithaca College, renting a kitchen from a local bar and schlepping everything over three times a day — a lot of labor, a lot of gas and a small kitchen that we had outgrown producing food for Manndible Café,” Pasetty said.

After winning Cornell’s search for a new eatery in spring, the owners of Fork and Gavel Café began setting up immediately so that the establishment could open in mid-August, according to Pasetty. After the café posted its full menu in September, it received a lot of student suggestions about ways that the establishment could improve.

“We got tons of feedback from the law school students, staff and faculty and other folks that were coming in about what they missed from [Hughes] Dining … and what they liked from Manndible Café,” Pasetty said.

Using this feedback, the owners revamped the menu and held a grand opening later in October, which Pasetty described as “terrific,” packing a “crowded house.” One change the operators made was focusing more on made-to-order items, since “grab and go” products were not popular last semester, according to Pasetty.

Pasetty said she feels traffic was “steady” during the first semester, she said they are working to build a “stronger, bigger customer base.”

“The law school is small and wonderful, but we need to be serving more people to make this business sustainable,” she said.

According to Pasetty, Fork and Gavel is currently on a campaign to increase business through coupons, posts on Facebook and word-of-mouth connections with people that work in nearby buildings.

“We are reaching out to adjacent buildings and schools in the campus — engineering quad, buildings on central campus — and also trying to figure out a way to reach students who live in Collegetown who live and walk right by, whatever school they go to,” Pasetty said.