Restaurants and fast food businesses around campus compete to keep students coming back

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By Ankit Choudhary and Christina Flores-Chan

For second-year computer engineering student Behzaad Pathan, Chachu’s tandoori chicken roll is his go-to food order on campus for a bite with friends between or after classes.

Tucked into Bond Street, a side street off Gould between campus coffee shop Balzac’s and staple Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) brunch spot Oakham Cafe, Chachu’s acts as something of a hole-in-the-wall for students. 

In warmer weather, the restaurant barbecues on their patio, allowing students to catch a whiff of the cozy, seasoned and spiced Pakistani street food that, to some students, feels a little bit like home. 

Behzaad said he usually goes with a friend and Chachu’s offers a $25 combo for two which includes a bowl, two wraps and two sodas, making the restaurant a good option for students to hang out and socialize. 

“The taste is pretty good and their customer service is also really nice,” he added. 

“By targeting everyone, you target no one”

Chachu’s, which opened up shortly before the fall 2022 term, is just one of the wide variety of food options that students have to choose from, on or near campus. These establishments include competing coffee shops to restaurants along Yonge Street, like Yonge Street Warehouse or Salad King. 

These restaurants compete on a daily basis to satisfy the appetites of students and keep their lights on—and they use targeted business strategies to do so.

Matthew Philp, an assistant marketing professor at TMU’s Ted Rogers School of Management, said restaurant owners should be confident in how they position and differentiate themselves in order to stand out and not only attract but keep clientele. 

He added that positioning a business can include taking product pricing, combo options, dietary concerns and student-focused deals into consideration, as well as the quality of their food.

“What I always say in my classes is you can’t target everyone,” said Philp. “You have to pick a lane. By targeting everyone, you target no one.” 

“Since campus opened back up, I think I am the happiest man alive”

Salar Hussein, the owner of the Chachu’s location near TMU, said he focused on three factors when opening up in a location near campus: affordability, taste and cooking pace. He added that the staff at Chachu’s is young, which he said makes it easier for students to connect with them.

Hussein also mentioned that he is excited about the increased campus traffic since the transition back to full-time classes post-pandemic. 

“Since campus opened back up, I think I am the happiest man alive,” he said. “It is very nice to see the campus full.”

Emma Panacci is a first-year biomedical engineering student at TMU who enjoys a regular cup of coffee at Oakham Cafe. 

She said their hours fit well with her school schedule and Oakham’s central location on campus allows for easy access for students coming in and out of classes. “Their prices are also pretty reasonable,” she said. 

Say Bagni, an Oakham Cafe barista and second-year photography studies student, said the cafe prides itself on being accessible to students. 

“Oakham is significantly cheaper than most of the coffee shops downtown and we cater to students and their needs,” Bagni said. “For example, we don’t upcharge on milk alternatives like other places because it’s super common for people not to consume dairy milk.”

Bagni added that the cafe’s menu options are curated toward students’ tastes and dietary restrictions as well, packing in decent portions per meal. 

“The special gives you an entire breakfast for less than seven dollars”

The Student Loan Special, one of Bagni’s recommendations, is priced at $6.59 and offers the option of scrambled eggs with a tofu alternative, with roasted tomato and home fries on white or wheat toast. Protein add-ons also include bacon, chicken-bacon or Beyond Meat.

“The special gives you an entire breakfast for less than seven dollars, and our vegan options are accommodating for lots of students,” Bagni added.

While budget plays a factor in students’ food decisions, Panacci said another reason she studies at Oakham is because of the cafe’s comfortable and aesthetically pleasing atmosphere. The newly renovated cafe has natural light, accented exposed brick walls and potted plants scattered throughout the establishment.

“Students will also think about if the restaurant is a place they want to spend time in,” Philp said, adding that when consumers develop an emotional connection to the space, it gives them a reason to come back.

Philp said that ultimately, success is about figuring out the wants and needs of the consumer. Whether it’s a place with a nice vibe and good music or a quick, easy snack before heading to class, businesses should embrace their customer demographic and own it. 

“The good thing for students is that they have many options around campus,” he added. “With each one bringing something different to the table.”

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