Aramark’s recent makeover of J Street has produced some negative feedback from students lamenting the loss of seating and waffle fries. Some new venues are closing earlier than Aramark officials had initially advertised.
The new layout was designed and built entirely under the supervision of Aramark, which recently renewed for 10 years its contract with the University.
“This was truly a total renovation,” said Michael Peller, director of Marvin Center and University conferences. “It wasn’t a bandage. Aramark gutted the floors and started from scratch.”
Peter Feldman, a junior, had a different view of the renovations.? “It looks like an airport,” he said.
He said he did not like that the booth seats were removed from the dining area now occupied by Subway and Baja Sol. “It doesn’t seem organic to GW,” Feldman said.
Michael Frenette, a junior, noted that there did not seem to be enough seating around the televisions affixed to a small-scale Washington Monument.
There are fewer than 120 available seats in the area surrounding the Monument; about half face the television sets mounted to the structure. The old design, with its booths and multiple benches, provided about 150 seats. “The new space was designed to lend a more open and accessible feel to (J Street),” said Amelia Powell, Aramark’s marketing director. She said a few seats were sacrificed so the monument and its stairwell could be attached to the lower level.
Maya Danilowitz, a senior, said she is not impressed by the new layout. “It looks more spacious, but it’s still really crowded.” She said she misses the Home Zone venue and added that the selections of food do not seem diverse.
After initial delays and complications, the new venues are all open, but their hours are different than Aramark officials had been publicizing. In the summer, Powell said all the new shops except for Miso and Starbucks would close at 2 a.m. The only venues currently open until 2 a.m. are Tuscan Oven, Subway and Baja Sol.
Powell said those hours could change in the future based on consumer demand.
The new venues are the result of in-depth market research conducted by Aramark. Powell said the five most popular cuisine choices for students were Italian, soup/chili, hot subs, vegetarian and Fresh-Mex. Additionally, she said, they found a desire for “grab-and-go” options for students looking to “refuel” between classes.
Jordan Wallack, a senior, said he thought the old J Street was better and he misses Chic-Fil-A waffle fries. “I can’t imagine eating here in between classes. I get my food and leave. It’s unaccommodating,” he said.
Frenette expressed similar sentiments.? “I’m loving Wendy’s,” he said, “but I don’t like the lines so much. At DJ’s Fastbreak and Coggins’ the lines are quicker.”
A few students expressed disapproval that Wendy’s does not have a dollar menu; most of the fast food chain’s stores offer burgers and snacks for $1. However, the lack of a dollar menu isn’t unique to GW’s Wendy’s, Aramark officials noted. A nearby store located on K Street had the same pricing as the J Street venue.
Aramark also adjusted the way fountain drinks are purchased, offering lower priced cups in different sizes while doing away with free refills. “Last year, student feedback revealed that the cups were too small and the prices were too high for fountain beverages,” Powell said.
Students said they are impressed with the new District Market. “There’s just more stuff,” Frenette said, “better produce, packaged meats.” He said the prices there were “all right” compared to other options in the city.
A rough price comparison between the District Market and the Safeway located under the Watergate painted a mixed picture. Non-staple items such as Advil, Hot Pockets and Lean Cuisine dinners were priced about 20 percent higher at the District Market. Staple items such as milk and cereal, however, were priced about 25 percent lower.
Powell said Aramark “did an extensive competitive analysis and found our prices to be on target with other retail outlets, such as Safeway.”
She pointed out that students avoid paying D.C. sales tax when shopping at campus venues and using Colonial Cash.
Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said he took a look at the District Market with his wife. “There’s a lot of variety there,” he said. “I went through it with my wife, and she tells me it’s more in line with Giant prices.”
Chernak said the renovations represented “a big investment for Aramark.”
“They’re here for a long term, and they want the contract to work well, and to do that they’ll have to be accommodating on consumer demand,” he said.