Bon Appétit shifts to bring local options


Mark's Café recently switched from Starbucks to local Rival Brothers coffee




Come this Valentine’s Day, students will be able to purchase gourmet cupcakes for their friends from a local dessert boutique using their Dining Dollars on campus.

This switch is one of many in Bon Appétit Management Company’s initiative to bring local Philadelphia products to students at Penn. The project, which began just after Thanksgiving last year, aligns with the company’s existing sustainability efforts.

“Bon Appétit already was practicing some sustainability and low-carbon footprint in our purchases from farms,” said Bon Appétit’s Director of Retail Dining Sky Strouth. “Why not do it for stuff that we sell in our retail operations?”

This initiative was born when Van Pelt Library approached Bon Appétit with the hope of “upgrading” the library’s coffee offerings. The library’s Mark’s Café, which was then offering Starbucks coffee, switched to Rival Brothers, a local company based out of a truck.

Rival Brothers, however, is not the only local brand that Bon Appétit has brought to Penn over the last few months. Students can now find products from Talula’s Table, known for being the restaurant for which it is hardest to get a reservation in the country, in Houston Market and at the Gourmet Grocer under 1920 Commons.

Starting on Feb. 6, Bon Appétit will also be offering gourmet cupcakes from Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, which they strategically timed for Valentine’s Day.

Students can also now use their Dining Dollars to buy pints of Capogiro’s gelato at Gourmet Grocer or Metropolitan Bakery’s granola at Houston Market.

According to Strouth, brands like Capogiro and Metropolitan Bakery already have a “very strong following” at their locations near campus.

“We are particularly targeting stuff that we already feel has a very strong brand in Philadelphia,” Strouth said.

Strouth, who had worked with Rival Brothers in the past, knew the company was looking to expand. After investing in new, more advanced machinery and inviting Rival Brothers to train the Bon Appétit staff, Mark’s Café reopened with the new product in November 2012.

Bryan Wilkinson, the University Libraries director of financial and administrative services, said of the venture, “We actually did invest a significant amount of resources and equipment to really make sure that we’re doing it right.”

The switch from Starbucks to Rival Brothers proved to be cost-efficient, as Starbucks was along the “higher line” of what the University would pay for coffee, according to Strouth.

Though Mark’s Café served Starbucks coffee, it did not carry the entire brand, he explained.

“Part of Rival Brothers’ commitment to us was they were going to … roast products specifically for us,” Strouth said. “They were going to tailor everything … for Penn.”

So far, the managers have received positive responses to the new product.

Stephen Scardina, the resident district manager at Bon Appétit, explained that compared to prior years with Starbucks, there has been an “increase overall in our coffee sales here at Mark’s.”

“The feedback I’ve gotten has been exclusively on the positive side,” Wilkinson added.

College freshman Gabby Abramowitz, a frequent visitor of Van Pelt, said, “I personally like that Penn is using a local coffee company … And this new brand is honestly just as good as Starbucks.”

Other companies that are coming to campus include Little Baby’s Ice Cream, which will be offering unique flavors of ice cream, such as Earl Gray Tea Sriracha and Peanut Butter Maple Terragon, at the Gourmet Grocer.

A main focus of the initiative is on sustainability. Many of the brands that Bon Appétit has brought to campus use mostly locally-produced ingredients.

“It’s a really nice cycle of giving back to the Philadelphia community,” added Strouth.

Barbara Lea-Kruger, director of communications and external relations for Business Services, said they were open to student input on initiatives like this one. “If students are interested in something, we’re willing to explore it.”

Penn Appétit, a student-run food magazine, is impressed with this new initiative.

“It’s a great idea that Bon Appétit is trying to incorporate more local brands and manufacturers into their offerings,” College junior Rachel Marcus, the publicity manager at Penn Appétit, a student-run food magazine, said in an email. “It will also showcase some unknown brands and expose the student body to these local brands that they can find right here on campus.”

“We’re looking to expand this program intelligently in a way that supports what the students are looking for on campus,” Strouth said. “Make it a little bit more convenient for them to eat stuff that they might have to go and pay maybe more in the city for.”

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