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Subway Story

District Market Crafted' replacing SUBWAY at Husky Den

On Feb. 9, 2018, SUBWAY will be closing its doors after two decades. Rather than limit options by renewing a nonnegotiable 20-year contract with the national chain, UW Dining conducted a complete evaluation, including extensive customer feedback to determine what you, the customer, wanted.

According to UW Dining Director Gary Goldberg, the decision to close SUBWAY was not an easy one. With any change comes the opportunity for new approaches and a rethinking of what has been. In the case of SUBWAY, a mainstay at the HUB since 1998, the end of the franchise’s current 20-year contract with UW Dining necessitated a deep review for how best to move forward. When SUBWAY announced it would only accept another 20-year nonnegotiable contract, UW Dining declined to extend the relationship due to the length and terms of the agreement being overly restrictive and counterproductive for UW Dining and, most importantly, its customers. In today’s changing culinary environment, food operators, especially those at universities, need to be flexible and imaginative.

As Goldberg noted, “The long-term deal was unusual because food trends change. Would you really want to be locked up in a concept like that for so long?”

The Team Approach: In spring 2017, UW Dining created a cross-functional team to begin a thorough analysis that included reviewing the existing contract, studying SUBWAY’s menus, inviting student participation, gaining customer input through a series of surveys, and evaluating other potential options for the Husky Den space. With the contract expiring in spring 2018, the team had time to systematically evaluate and offer ideas and finally determine if SUBWAY would be the best option or if there were a better direction.
 
To provide a wide range of experience, expertise and perspective, the HFS team members consisted of staff from UW Dining, HFS Financial Services, HFS Communications and Marketing, HFS Facilities Services and HFS Human Resources, as well as students, who added the essential student perspective. Bella Zesati, one of the student members, said of the experience, “I was able to help the team get and record responses from students, giving them a voice on what they wanted in place of SUBWAY. I was able to ask students in person on their views and opinions. I was able to give the team real time and accurate data based on other students, and my time involvement.”
 
Data was essential. According to Dean Masuccio, UW Dining’s Administrator for Business Operations, “The team analyzed historical data from the current SUBWAY concept as well as data obtained through the team’s own assessment efforts.” To develop concept recommendations, they gathered information about the demographics and needs of customers purchasing meals at Husky Den. The team identified a list of potential concepts to include in a series of intercept interviews. To define any new concepts, the they took into consideration available space, equipment requirements, current trends and menu price points, as well as evaluating market trends and any financial implications.
 
The Power of Surveys: At location interviews, detailed surveys were conducted with Husky Den customers over multiple days and times. Questions addressed demographics, purchase location, the rationale for choosing a particular Husky Den venue, and potential concepts if SUBWAY were to be replaced. The top recommended concepts were a sandwich deli, a burrito concept or a Vietnamese bowls concept. Customer feedback was vital in helping to make the determination to replace SUBWAY with a sandwich concept. The survey data also lead UW Dining to introduce the Mexican concept Síganos to the Husky Den this past fall.

Given the customer desire for a sandwich option and the 20-year tradition of SUBWAY, it is fitting that the location now becomes a more contemporary sandwich offering with an emphasis on speed and freshness. UW Dining will open a new sandwich venue on March 26, 2018, called District Market Crafted, which will offer handcrafted sandwiches made fresh daily with an emphasis on quality ingredients and fast service.

Perhaps change is the only constant. “We wanted to explore all of our options and display them for students, because in the final analysis, students are the ones purchasing the food,” said Goldberg. “Students, we heard you.”