WILLIAMSBURG — Ending nearly a year of uncertainty in which they feared for the future of their businesses, the four restaurants in Tribe Square adjacent to the campus will be allowed to participate in the college's expanded student meal plan.
When the new policy was adopted, it mandated participation in the plan for on-campus students and that they use the meal plan for a majority of their meals — the restaurants saw their business fall off steeply last fall.
"We were down almost 50 percent," said Pita Pit Owner Kimberly Twine.
Business was just as bad right next door said MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes owner Alpen Patel.
Access to the campus business was the major lure for restaurants filling the bottom of Tribe Square, just across Richmond Road from William and Mary. The upper two floors are filled with student apartments operated as off-campus dormitory.
Both Twine and Patel said it's unclear if having meals at their restaurants count toward the meal plan will help their business pick back up, although they hope so.
"It's been slow in the summer," said Twine. "We won't know until the students get back. It took until just a couple of weeks ago to negotiate the deal."
Both the restaurateurs and the college said that was because the college changed vendors on its food plan.
"[It is] important to understand that the agreement to be part of the meal plan is between the restaurants at Tribe Square and Sodexo, our new dining services provider who started July 1," college spokesman Brian Whitson wrote in an email. "President [Taylor] Reveley and Vice President [Anna] Martin did work closely with Sodexo and the owners to bring the group together so they could reach an agreement."
Martin explained that there isn't one meal plan, but a series of ten, that allows for different combinations of "all-you-can-eat" meals and "dining dollars," which are used in retail establishments like the Tribe Square restaurants, the on-campus Chik-fil-A and Qdobas and the new Aromas in the library. Freshman are required to have a plan that maximizes "all-you-can-eat" meals.
Martin said including the Tribe Square restaurants wasn't a change in policy.
"It was a change in contracts," she said. "Our old contract with our former vendor didn't' call for that."
Sodexo won the bid for the dining contract, replacing Aramark.
Twine said she was hopeful that being included in the meal plan options might make her business even better than it was before.
"It could be better. More students might come now," she said.
Aptel remained skeptical.
"There are also some on-campus options that have been added to the meal plan," he said in a telephone interview.
Before last fall, both Pita Pit and MOOYAH had developed an avid student following. Both won nationwide Facebook contests — fueled by online "likes" — for their brands that resulted in both restaurants giving away free food for a day. Both Twine and Aptel had credited support from the students with those victories.