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Hoot and Whoo Deli move to RMC, Droubi's to South Servery in campus food reshuffle

Construction at RMC serving window

By Amber Tong     8/10/15 11:14am

Hungry owls returning in the fall may be in for a surprise. The Rice Memorial Center is undergoing renovations to accommodate significant changes in the campus food scene, which include the relocation of Whoo Deli, Droubi’s Mediterranean Grill and 4.TacO as well as the centralization of The Hoot in the RMC. 4.TacO and The Hoot will share Droubi’s window in the RMC, Droubi’s will move into South Servery and Whoo Deli will move into Sammy’s.

According to Susann Glenn, communications manager for Housing and Dining, the changes are in response to a survey sent out last year.

“We sent out a retail dining survey [to] check in with faculty, staff, graduate students — the people who would most frequent our retail operations,” Glenn said.

Glenn said Whoo Deli, a brand owned by Rice and the campus’s top food seller, is moving from its current location at South Servery into Sammy’s lounge in the RMC to increase its visibility and accessibility.

“The deli has a loyal following, and moving it to this location centralizes it [in] the campus, which is convenient,” Glenn said. “It also exposes it to some people who may not have ventured down to the south part of campus to eat. And with the number of visitors that travels through the student center, it's just an excellent option.”

Chef and Dining Director Johnny Curet said Droubi’s, which used to be in the RMC, is taking Whoo Deli’s place in South Servery. According to Curet, he expects this change to benefit the restaurant’s operation.

“We wanted to give Droubi’s a solid location for some dining,” Curet said. “Some of the things that you as an operator have to deal with is sometimes we have to close this area down based on the RMC schedule for events. That's tough on an operator. … [In the future they can] operate more successfully, more consistently.”

A.J. Droubi, owner of Droubi’s, said while the interior design has improved, customers are still getting used to its new location.

It is much prettier but too quiet,” Droubi said. “I hope we will be able to have some of our customers back and generate some sales.”

On the bright side, Droubi said, the Droubi’s experience is becoming even healthier not just because of the food, but also the exercise one gets from visiting.

“My motto now is that the Mediterranean diet has gotten healthier. A few minutes of walking to our new location can keep you in better shape!” Droubi said. “From our side, we are keeping the menu simple: Mediterranean food freshly made, wholesome and without additives, without fats, and very reasonably priced.

According to Brad Thacker, senior operations manager of food services, 4.TacO will move into the serving window that is being emptied as Droubi’s leaves, possibly introducing breakfast options in the RMC

“The idea is that 4.TacO is the most driven [new operation],” Thacker said. “We've really engaged some people and gotten things moving.”

Lastly, The Hoot will combine its South and North operations to one central location in the RMC, the serving window, according to Curet.

“We're working closely with the student center leadership, and with [The] Hoot,” Curet said. “And they're really excited about the offer.”

Joanna Weedlun, general manager of The Hoot, said The Hoot management team is thrilled to announce the relocation to RMC.

“This move should open up a new range of services and products for our customers,” Weedlun, a Hanszen College senior, said. “As we are approaching our sixth year of serving Rice University, we look forward to continuously improving the business.

According to Weedlun, operating in one location instead of two will allow the late night food provider to focus more on serving customers rather than administration.

“Re-selling hot food is a very tricky business model, and is made even more difficult by having two locations,” Weedlun said. “By consolidating The Hoot into one central location, we can strengthen our business model and increase innovation for our customer base.”

Weedlun also said centralizing is not a recent idea; previous Hoot management teams have thought about it, and the current team has worked on it for a while.

The process of this move actually began years ago and has been a goal for many Hoot management teams,” Weedlun said. “The Hoot has planned ahead and budgeted accordingly for this move.

In addition to infrastructure changes, Curet said there will also be new food options at the RMC in response to campus demand.

“One of the things that we started with 4.TacO recently was the Korean taco and, believe it or not, it's our number one taco now,” Curet said. “So we're really excited about that. [The demand] is more Asian food, more grab-and-go, and more Indian food — which is a piece that we're still trying to play with. We're still testing an Indian taco.”

According to Glenn, the relocation and expansion of the menu are meant to reflect consumption demands and patterns.

“This is all done with a lot of thought and really looking at what trends we're seeing,” Glenn said. “It's not just a knee-jerk reaction.”

Thacker emphasized that change is a constant process, since the mission of Housing and Dining is to respond to campus needs.

“We can always make changes,” Thacker said. “And the whole concept we took up was that we want to be very fluid. We wanted to be able to react. The university, as well as just food industry as a whole, is very fluid.”

Anastasia Bolshakov, a recent graduate (Duncan '15) who worked with H&D and was involved in reviewing the results of the survey, said the feedback mechanism helps the department understand the needs of the community and position their work.

“I think that a lot of the feedback was really eye-opening, and some of it was contradictory,” Bolshakov said. “It's important to remember that you are not going to please everyone.”

Bolshakov said moving Droubi’s and Whoo Deli will benefit each of them in different ways.

Now [Droubi’s will] have their own dining room, a bigger space and a kitchen they won't have to share.” Bolshakov said. “It is nice that the Whoo Deli is in a more central location now too. People were often complaining that the Hanszen Annex was too far of a walk, and you can't really get any more central than the RMC.

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