Rady School Steps in to Save Grove

    The Grove Caffe has seen tumultuous managerial and financial fluctuations over the past year, prompting the A.S. Council to explore multiple options – many igniting controversy – to solve the restaurant’s crisis. Recently, however, the Grove has initiated dialogue with UCSD’s Rady School of Management in hopes of boosting lackluster profits.

    Arash Keshmirian/Guardian
    Revelle College senior Kathleen Parkes studies at Student Center’s Grove Caffe. While the future of the business has been heatedly debated in the past, its recent partnership with the Rady School of Management ensures its survival for the coming year.

    Problems escalated at the beginning of this quarter, when manager and original founder Ron Carlson liquidated his 50-percent ownership of the coffee shop’s contract. Employees questioned whether the A.S. Council would continue to sustain the small enterprise that has incurred a staggering debt of $48,000.

    Although it has not yet been formalized, the partnership is expected to develop over the course of the year in three parts. The school would form a new cohesive business plan for the Grove, aiming ultimately to alleviate its debt. The plan would also serve to distinguish the Grove from competing coffee shops on campus.

    The first step toward establishing the Grove-Rady partnership involves the creation of an undergraduate coalition, comprised of councilmembers and Grove employees under the guidance of Clark Jordan, the assistant dean of the Rady School.

    “”Five or six students are going to be working directly with Clark Jordan in order to research and analyze the current business plan of the Grove,”” John Muir College sophomore and Grove employee Randell Baltazar said. “”They will study marketing and financial issues to find a way to differentiate ourselves, to make our product more unique.””

    If the plan moves forward, the second phase would begin over summer break. The coalition would choose an intern – most likely a business graduate student from the Rady School – to expand upon and continue their research.

    The final phase of the plan would include the hiring of approximately 45 Rady School business graduate students for the next academic year.

    “”They’ll take the Grove as a turnaround business experiment, corresponding with the undergraduate coalition as an ongoing independent study project for credit,”” Baltazar said.

    Employees encourage a fresh approach to marketing, which they hope will bring the enterprise’s profitability back to its original level, when the Grove Caffe was the only coffee shop on campus. The marketing plan could include the development of ties with other vendors to sell products not available at other popular campus eateries.

    “”While the management has its problems, [the Grove’s financial failure] is not specifically a management problem,”” Muir senior and Grove employee Jason Grishkoff said. “”The problem is that anyone can go anywhere on campus to find what we offer.””

    Muir senior and Grove employee Matt Finkelstein, who helped initiate and advocate the Rady School partnership, strongly believes in the viability of the collaboration.

    “”I think the future will be bright, with a new approach to doing business, and new facilities under construction like indoor seating,”” Finkelstein said. “”We will be able to maintain the essence of the Grove as a student-run and student-operated enterprise, while serving a conscientious product and providing a congenial, lively atmosphere.””

    Grishkoff was also optimistic about the A.S. Council’s decision to forge a collaboration with students from UCSD’s business school. The council had considered alternative options ranging from hiring an outside manager to shutting down the Grove entirely and leasing out the space.

    “”This [option] was the one we were rooting for,”” Grishkoff said. “”It will give us another chance.””

    Robin Darmon, director of MBA Career Connections at the Rady School, also expressed confidence in a formal partnership between Grove employees and Rady administration and students.

    “”We would be more than happy to assist if the right team can be put together from the Rady School,”” Darmon said in an e-mail. “”As an avid fan of the Grove, I do hope that this tradition will continue for decades to come.””

    The departure of former manager Carlson garnered mixed reactions from employees. While most welcome a change in management, they remain unhappy with the history of neglect and miscommunication left by Carlson.

    “”I didn’t interact much with Ron – in the time I’ve spent here, I saw him two or three times,”” Finkelstein said. “”He created a great thing, and the ideas and values he helped establish are admirable, but I think he may have lost sight of those values.””

    While many elements of the Rady School partnership are still in development, employees do not foresee major conflicts for future relations.

    However, the central obstacle yet to be resolved is the considerable debt that the A.S. Council is currently managing.

    “”The biggest difficulty is the large sum of money that needs to be recovered,”” Grishkoff said. “”Right now, it’s coming out of A.S. funds.””

    Regaining money may not be as strenuous a task as employees anticipate if they can succeed in increasing the Grove’s clientele base and diversifying its offerings.

    “”I’m a freshman, so I’ve never really eaten at the Student Center before,”” Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman Joanna Gartner said. “”But if [the Grove] advertised something unique that I couldn’t get at Price Center, I would be open to eating there more often.””

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