Caliente, the Mexican food option in the Student Union, has been around for little more than a semester, but administrators of Caliente are happy with how the store is doing.
Brad Harris, area executive chef for NANA Management Services, designed the menu for Caliente and was one of the people who helped create the semi-original concept at UAA.
“We started out simplistic, we took a lot of information in from students, staff and faculty,” Harris said on the creation process of Caliente. “We had cards out for [comments]…. And we took a lot of notation on opinion, needs and wants. We changed the menu three times now, [and] we added some additional offerings.”
One of the biggest challenges for Caliente as a new restaurant is competing with Subway’s established brand, customer loyalty and cheaper price point.
“We know Subway has a great plan for students and I guess the rest of the United States, but the $3.50 sub, we try to compete with that,” Harris said. “We have a tostada in place, we have some cheaper offerings than what we currently started with. Students implied about obviously having carne asada, or steak, so now we have that available. We have queso sauce that everyone was talking about. We’ve done a good job of listening, and I think the students have reacted very positively with the offerings we currently have in place after they obviously recommended them and we supplied.”
Scott Evers, area manager for NANA Management services said around two years ago he started working on a new concept to replace the old food stop, the Mein Bowl. Using student and faculty feedback, Evers started researching potential new food concepts.
“There were several different concepts: there was an Italian concept, there was a pizza concept, like a Pizza Hut,” Evers said. “We knew that we needed to change something — regardless of whether it was another coffee shop — or if we just needed to have another food offering on campus, and it seems like everything we had on the open forums with the faculty and staff was that they wanted some kind of Mexican concept.”
Evers said authenticity and quality were two things that were very important to the creation of Caliente, and so he took some southern California trips to see what Mexican food concepts had been successful there. After the trips, Evers had the name Caliente and menu ideas to implement at the Student Union.
“Mein Bowl was getting old, getting tired, and getting boring. We needed to bring something fresh and new to it,” Evers said. “We went to Pepperdine, [Loyola Marymount University], a couple other schools and it seemed like out of all their open forums that they had with their students, they wanted some type of Mexican concept. So we then recreated Caliente, and we feel that it’s done really well.”
Bridger Bates is the sous-chef at Caliente and believes that the concept has done well in its first semester.
“We are in the university and a lot of the students, I don’t think, can afford to eat here or don’t want to spend that kind of money…” Bates said. “But overall, I think it’s doing really well. I think some of the feedback we’ve gotten, some of the promotions that we do, things have been positive.”
Evers and Harris have talked about expanding Caliente’s services to other venues, including offering a Caliente food truck. For now, Evers and Harris are working on special promotions for their food that offer a lower price point for students.