New Manager Detracts from Grove’s Student-Run Spirit

    STUDENT CENTERS AND HEALTH — After several years of slipping deeper into debt — and many failed efforts by the A.S. Council to stop the bleeding — it seemed as though the Grove Caffe might be rescued by the Rady School of Management last May. Plans of a partnership were meant to bolster the Grove’s profits and bring a fresh approach to its marketing strategies while preserving it as a student-run enterprise.

    Alas, not long after dialogue had been initiated between the A.S. Council, the Rady School and Grove employees, it became apparent that the Grove needed more stable and permanent management than the Rady School could offer, if the historical coffee shop hoped to survive.

    Without the Rady School to dig the Grove out of debt, the A.S. Council has elected to appoint an external manager to regain control of the Grove’s finances in hopes of ensuring stability for the fraught A.S. enterprise. However, deciding to hire a non-student manager won’t alleviate the Grove’s ever-escalating debt, which soared to approximately $17,000 before the original owner, Ron Carlson, liquidated his 50-percent ownership of the Grove’s contract last spring. This gives good reason to be skeptical as to how drastically new management would benefit the struggling A.S. enterprise.

    The Grove first burst on to the campus scene 21 years ago with its unique, hipster vibe and serene, pre-Price Center atmosphere. The Associated Students had high hopes for the restaurant, aiming to create a largely student-run business that would provide young entrepreneurs with hands-on business experience, and customers with economically and socially conscious products. A.S. Enterprise Operations encouraged the development of student services at the Grove to the point of running a continual deficit. After a long history of financial fluctuations and the liquidation of Carlson’s ownership, the Grove found itself in a desperate situation, possibly facing closure. Unfortunately, the Grove received minimal assistance from the A.S. Council, which had left the indebted coffeehouse on the back burner for a little too long — its problems have only been continuing to worsen.

    At this point, it would take almost a miracle to save the Grove. Without its distinctiveness as a student-run enterprise, the Grove has lost part of what makes it stand out as UCSD’s original coffee shop. Although the Grove certainly can no longer continue on its current path as a student-run business (incurring further debt along the way), it may come as an upset that student-employees will no longer have the same access to applied practice in small-business management as they have for the past 21 years. By bringing in outside management, the A.S. Council is simultaneously taking away much of what sets the Grove Caffe apart from the multitude of coffee shops on the UCSD campus.

    Besides excising tradition, the A.S. Council is also spending a great deal of money by bringing in a new managerial system for the Grove. Obviously, hiring a new, outside manager is significantly more expensive than hiring UCSD students — a precarious move, especially when there is no guarantee that new management will save the Grove from extinction. Unstable management aside, there are multiple problems that have been contributing to the Grove’s tremendous deficit over the past several years that must also be addressed.

    One problem that undoubtedly damages business at the Grove is that its salads, sandwiches and cappuccinos, though delicious, can often be found at many, much more convenient locations on campus. Virtually every UCSD cafeteria offers similar items that can be purchased with pre-paid meal points, and the dozens of coffee carts and restaurants in Price Center and all over campus are virtually unavoidable for students walking to and from their classes. The Grove, on the other hand, is generally out of the way for many students, nestled away in the serene Student Center. On top of that, the never-ending construction does little to help persuade potential Grove customers to step inside the restaurant even if they happen to be famished and wandering near Revelle College.

    To address these issues, the Grove clearly needs better advertising to bring in more business, but even more so, it needs to introduce more unique products and services to keep its customers coming back for more.

    Clearly, if the Grove Caffe hopes to serve customers for another 21 years to come, its new managerwill have his work cut out for him. Though it has become a small landmark on campus with its scenic patio, tasty dishes and foamy lattes, the Grove has quite a way to go before its charm wins over the hearts of the multitude of customers that it needs if it wants to emerge from the red. Also, the Grove (along with most A.S. Enterprises) barely turns a profit. Now, we can only hope that the new management that the A.S. Council elected will have the persistence, determination and the revolutionary ideas to turn the Grove around, bringing it back to its original level when it opened its doors as the first coffee shop on campus. Otherwise, let’s hope the A.S. Council has a plan B.

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