Pub faces shutdown
Suffering from an ongoing financial decline since the drinking age in Texas changed from 18 to 21 in 1986, Willy's Pub is now close to going under.
A combination of hiring new staff, managing Little Willy's, colleges cancelling Pub Nights and other factors, such as paying taxes for past years, has caused the budget for Pub to destabilize.
"We really want to maintain our status as an inexpensive student bar," General Manager Betsy Blanks said. "We are really lucky to have a pub, and it's an awesome opportunity for students to get involved in business. It is so cool to have a pub run by students for students, but we need everyone's support if we are going to stay open."
Director of Student Center and Campus-wide Programs Boyd Beckwith said Pub is $14,000 in debt to Rice and is definitely at risk of closing down.
"It's a real possibility that if they don't have a financial plan for success they may not be open," he said. "The university is not planning to bail them out."
Though Pub has had issues with revenue in the past, Blanks says this year, the situation is truly dire.
"We are going to be open next month, but are we going to be open next semester?" Blanks asked. "This time it is actually as serious as, ‘Will Pub be open?'"
In order to increase revenue, Pub hopes to hold more events and encourage colleges to continue having Pub Nights. The bar makes most of its money on Thursday nights, when there is a large student turnout, Blanks said. In the past, Tuesdays have also been big revenue intake days due to Pub Nights.
"We want to let students know it's not just about drinking beer, and we offer a lot of other stuff," Blanks said. "We have food and pool tables. Everyone should come hang out with their friends."
Since the start of the alcohol probation last year, the university has started to require colleges to hire an RUPD officer to be present at the door for each Pub Night. This adds to the cost of the event, Blanks said.
Pub Night costs range from about $1,000 to $1,500 per college. Jones College paid around $1,200 for its Pub Night this semester, Jones Social Hayley Jones said.
With a cost so high, some colleges have begun buying their own kegs and hosting similar events in their own space, where they do not have to hire an officer or rent space.
Duncan College, for instance, created an event called Duncan Tavern to function as an equivalent event to Pub Night during its first year, when the college could not afford to rent out Pub, Duncan College Legislative Vice President Jonathan Stewart said.
"We are sad that a lot of colleges aren't doing Pub Night, but we simply couldn't afford it at the time," Stewart said. "Still, the loss of Pub would be an immense blow to our campus culture."
Pub is also thinking of hosting study times with no music and a good working atmosphere, Blanks said.
With the opening of Little Willy's earlier in the semester in Coffeehouse's old space, Pub decided to stop selling Quiznos sandwiches and start making and selling its own sandwiches. However, because of the small space in Little Willy's, health codes stipulate that Pub cannot prepare the sandwiches on-site. Because of this restriction, Pub has been trying to predict the demand for sandwiches at lunchtime each day to make them downstairs and sell upstairs. This process has led to income loss.
"Little Willy's has been a trial period and an experiment with different options," General Manager Betsy Blanks said. "We want to get it running more smoothly."
Because of unpredictable sales, Pub has ended up throwing a lot of food away each day. To try to combat this, only pizza by the slice will be sold in Little Willy's, and sandwiches will be made and sold downstairs in Pub.
"We are making more revenue from the sandwiches, but our operating costs are higher," Head Bartender Glenn Fiedler said.
The bar has also raised prices slightly. For example, the price of their most commonly sold product, the 20-oz. Bud Light, has increased from $2.00 to $2.50. Also, Mickey's 40-oz bottles have been raised from $3.00 (a long-standing tradition) to $3.50. Pub typically sells 100 to 120 40-oz bottles of Mickey's each Thursday night, Fiedler said. Pub hours are 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday
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