For the past two years, students have struggled to keep up with the high costs at Grown, the café located in R.J. Julia bookstore. Starting this fall, however, Grown will accept student meal points all day.
When R.J. Julia first opened two years ago, Chief Executive Officer of Grown Shannon Allen didn’t expect how busy the bookstore would be or how students would engage with the café.
“I didn’t really know anything about points, because I just came in as a solo operator from our store in Miami and building out the reinvention of fast food,” Allen said. “But it became evident to us really quickly that students—and especially student athletes—were saying ‘I really want to eat here, when I’m home I eat organic food, but I really don’t have pocket money.’”
With this information in mind, the Grown team began initiating conversations with the University about the ways in which they could mitigate costs for students, particularly by accepting payment in the form of student points. After discussions with the administration, the University and Grown agreed that the store would accept points after 4 p.m.
“It was a really great test, because students were able to come in and it wasn’t a financial burden on them,” Allen said.
However, as students still struggled to meet the high costs, Grown created and circulated a comment sheet asking students to share their thoughts about the store.
“Ninety percent of the comments were ‘we want points all day,’” Allen said.
Allen then went back to the University with this data and argued that it was crucial for students’ meal points to be accepted. After more conversations, the University agreed. University representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment about the changing program.
“We’re so grateful and excited that the University is on board, and grateful and excited that we’ll be able to offer points all day,” Allen said.
Since the switch, Executive Chief Dwayne Franklin has seen steady growth in student customers.
“[When we tell] returning classmates from last year that we’re accepting points, they’re way happier,” Franklin said. “They’ll come for lunch, or any time off they have from class because now they have the opportunity to do more with their points rather than just stay on campus or coming here late in the afternoon.”
To accommodate the growing number of customers, Grown is adding staff mid-shift and in the evenings. While many staff members aren’t a part of the Wesleyan community, Grown is hoping to hire more workers from the University.
Along with offering points all day, Grown is also now offering a loyalty program, recently brought cold brew nitro coffee to their menu, and is looking to sell beer and wine. They’re also planning to collaborate more with the bookstore about events and speakers, and catering events that examine issues pertaining to food justice. They are now serving a vegan menu and Greenprint-certified dishes.
Kaye Dyja can be reached at email@example.com.