Papalino’s NY Pizzeria, Green Leaf and Cluckers: three restaurants that have come and gone in the four years that Cardinal Towne has been a staple on Belknap campus.
Restaurants that cater to college students seem like they have a simple formula. If restaurants give students affordable, fast and delicious food options, they will give them repeat business.
But the fact of the matter is, business has been difficult for some establishments in Cardinal Towne.
“It was tough for some of the first retailers there,” says David Klein, who works in operations and development at Investment Property Advisors. IPA originally developed Cardinal Towne, until the property was sold to American Campus Communities in 2013.
“We opened up so many businesses so quickly right there, and campus was still changing from more of a commuter to more of a residential campus.”
Klein used Green Leaf Vegetarian Bistro, now Mt. Fuji, as an example of a struggling Cardinal Towne restaurant that changed its entire business for the better.
Both Green Leaf and Mt. Fuji have the same owner, and when business was not looking good, the owners completely changed their model. Apparently students were not quite ready to embrace an entirely vegan menu.
“What he realized is that he pigeon-holed himself so much. How many times is someone going to want to eat vegan?” says Klein.
The owners adapted, revamped their menu and changed the interior. Klein believes they have been successful because of the change.
For Cluckers, Klein speculates that the price of rent may have been a factor in the close of the Card Towne location.
“That’s the largest space that we have there, the most square footage. Their rent amount is the most, so they have to do the most business.”
With more than 12 locations to choose from, restaurants in Card Towne all have to compete with each other. Klein says that adding a variety of businesses that are not restaurants can ease the competition on Cardinal Blvd.
Restaurants must also adapt to the college calendar.
“Some of the challenges that we had, which is typical of any student market, is the seasonality of the business. They would be packed all school, and then there would be a break and their business would fall of quite a bit. It happened in the summertime. It happened during Christmas break.”
The most successful businesses in Cardinal Towne can adapt to the demands of college students and create a product that attracts alums, Old Louisville residents and non-students during the slower seasons.
Although Klein has not done business with Cardinal Towne since the company changed ownership, he sees Cardinal Blvd. as a center for growth at U of L.
“Campus is growing. I think that there will be a change to what a lot of college campuses have, like a downtown U of L, which is going to be Cardinal Blvd. right there and maybe even more retail.”
When it comes to restaurants near campus, students can vote with their wallet about which locations will remain.
Photo by Rachel Essa