When classes resumed in late August, students attending classes at the Taylorsville Redwood, Jordan and South City campuses were met with the realization that the on-campus cafés were not in operation – a sudden reversal after having just reopened in the fall of 2022.
According to Assistant Controller Sean Clayton, the school was not able to renew its contract with catering company Taher, which was brought in last year to manage those three cafés and general catering across other campuses. But now, with Taher’s exit and being unable to find a new catering company, SLCC is exploring a new concept: visiting restaurants, currently with Chick-fil-A and Korean BBQ chain Cupbop.
“A few years ago, SLCC used to do all of its own food service, but it proved to be costly and inefficient,” said Clayton, who manages SLCC’s auxiliary services. “We’re now [rethinking] the landscape after wages and inflation [have gone] through the roof and trying to be sensitive to what students’ disposable income looks like.”
In his role at the college, Clayton makes decisions on SLCC’s business services leadership team, which also includes Chris Martin, vice president and chief financial officer at SLCC. Per the contract that SLCC entered with its two visiting restaurants, both Chick-fil-A and Cupbop may not charge more on-campus than they would at one of their franchise locations.
In fact, Clayton said both chains have intentionally reduced their on-campus prices by reducing menu selection due to the nature of acting as visiting restaurants. Chick-fil-A, for example, has substituted its popular waffle fries for potato chips.
There are limitations to what visiting restaurants can do on-site, but it’s the hope of Clayton and the business services leadership team that the visiting restaurants become permanent partners, which would allow them to utilize the established grill areas and prepare food on-site.
This, Clayton said, would bring a greater selection of menu items to campus locations and likely cut prices even more.
If both SLCC and the franchise owners consider the “trial run” successful, the grills at the South City, Taylorsville Redwood, Jordan and Herriman campuses could be used to make the food accessible to more students. So far, according to Clayton, the founder of Cupbop has been happy with the results and hopes to someday see a Cupbop at every SLCC campus.
“When we originally thought of this idea, it was to have a new restaurant every day and bring variety,” Clayton said. “One thing we have is a very diverse [student body], but we don’t have very diverse [food] choices. I want to see Ethiopian, American BBQ, a Mexican restaurant … give everybody the chance to represent is kind of our goal. I hope we will get there.”
Before that happens, Clayton said he is looking to see at least Chick-fil-A installed as a visiting restaurant at the South City Campus this upcoming spring semester. For now, the South City bookstore is the only place SLCC students can grab something to eat.
According to Clayton, a self-service station at the South City Campus that will offer pre-made meals – with vegetarian and vegan options – is forthcoming but is currently experiencing technical issues connecting to SLCC’s network.
“Proof of concept,” which Clayton describes as the method of evaluating the success of currently visiting restaurants, might be easy to obtain when so many students gravitate towards popular chains already.
Near the beginning of the month, Sebastian, a business major and full-time student at SLCC, used DoorDash to deliver lunch for himself in between classes. He said the intensity of his class schedule means he often doesn’t have time to leave campus for food.
“A close place to get healthy, good food on-campus with ‘real food’ and not just meat … something all students can utilize, [would save] having to wake up early to bring yourself something to eat here, [or] having to spend extra cash on delivery or gas to leave campus,” Sebastian said.
Students with vegan and vegetarian diets may find Cupbop’s tofu and veggie options preferable to Chick-fil-A, although the two chains are still only operating at the Taylorsville Redwood Campus. They are open on weekdays until 1:30 p.m. or until food runs out, whichever comes first.
Call it ironic or serendipitous that the meal Sebastian had delivered that day was from Chick-fil-A’s Sugarhouse location. If there had been a Chick-fil-A at the South City Campus, he said he undoubtedly would have utilized it.
According to Clayton, if the first two visiting franchises are ultimately successful in partnering with SLCC, more may follow.