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Students face breakfast decision

Sam Stryker | Friday, March 4, 2011

A battle of the bagels commenced on Jan. 22 when popular chain Einstein Bros. opened a location on South Bend Avenue, just a few doors down from local establishment Studebagels.

Merry Smith, owner of Studebagels, said business has held steady since Einstein Bros. opened.

“It’s only been a month or so, but we really haven’t seen a difference yet,” she said. “We looked at last year’s numbers from the same time and we’re about identical.”

Smith said this is not the first challenge Studebagels has experienced in 18 years of business. She said the company continues to focus on producing the best product.

“There actually have been a couple of different bagel shops around, and a lot of places offer bagels, but nothing has opened this close,” Smith said. “We just roll with what we know. We try to do the best we can.”

Smith said rather than view Einstein Bros. as detrimental to Studebagels’ business, she sees a chance to improve her restaurant.

“I think it will make us even better. Competition is always good,” she said. “We may have to step up our game a little bit, and do some different things.”

Business has started strong for Einstein Bros., owner Michael Newton said.

“[Business has been] good, very good,” he said. “We have been fortunate so far. … [Notre Dame students] are a big part of our business. We look for everyone in the community, including Notre Dame students and local college students.”

Einstein Bros has offered coupons on campus in addition to giving away free breakfast sandwiches for a year to their first 100 customers, Newton said. He said these promotions have helped draw students to the restaurant.

“The redemption rate has been quite impressive,” Newton said. “It definitely has been nice to see the kids come in and use those coupons. I think they have been quite happy so far.”

College students will remain a big part of business once the coupons expire, Newton said. He said drawing in customers initially was important to introducing the Einstein Bros. experience.

“I think this was a great way to introduce ourselves to the community and say, ‘Hey, we’re in town. Why don’t you come in and let us take care of you,'” Newton said. “Hopefully they like the product and they’ll come in again, with or without a coupon.”

Smith said she estimates 30 percent of Studebagels customers are Notre Dame students. In addition to a 10 percent student discount, she said the warm atmosphere of Studebagels draws the college crowd.

“Some of the kids who come by at night to see the bagels made, I have become sort of their mother. I think we offer them more than just food. We bake them with love,” Smith said. “It’s not like some place else. There is only one of us.”

Smith said she appreciates the interaction the Studebagels staff has with students.

“We like to have them come in because we learn from them everyday,” she said.

Newton said one of Einstein Bros. strongest facets is the level of commitment he and his wife Melissa, co-owner and operator, bring to the business.

“I think the [goal] of every restaurant is to execute well. Not everyone does that, but we have consistent, excellent service,” he said. “We do it with a personal touch. My wife and I are in the store pretty much from open to close.”

Health-conscious food is also part of Einstein Bros. appeal to college students, Newton said.

“When you come into Einstein Bros., you’ll see we’re more health-oriented. We use fresh products and we bake everything on site,” he said. “We have a lot of good stuff.”

Studebagels focuses on providing fresh food, with homemade bagels, cream cheese, and original recipes, Smith said. She said Studebagels is able to offer a wider variety of specialty items than Einstein Bros.

“We offer a lot of things they cannot do because they are a chain,” Smith said. “We make heart bagels on Valentines Day, different colored bagels for different sporting events and different schools, some things that are just unique.”

Senior Sarah Weiler, a regular Studebagels customer, said it is important to support local businesses.

“As long as we have local businesses, why not support them, especially because they were here first,” she said. “It’s not the most important thing students can do, but it is probably for the better.”

Senior Jessica Spiewak, who received a ticket booklet for 52 free breakfast sandwiches as one of Einstein Bros. first 100 customers, said she remains a loyal Studebagels customer.

“It’s definitely a temporary thing,” she said. “I never spend any money when I go to Einstein Bros., and as soon as I run out of these coupons I will start going back to Studebagels again.”

The friendly atmosphere of Studebagels is what draws college students, Weiler said.

“It’s more like a coffee shop where you can sit with friends. I wouldn’t think of a chain restaurant in that way as much,” she said. “I go to Studebagels because it is fun to go and chat about the weekend and what everyone is up to.”

Spiewak said as a local business, Studebagels is unparalleled in the attention to detail they bring to their food, such as the variety of bagels and rotating coffee flavors.

“I think it is all the extra little touches that local businesses can add to things, unlike corporate chain-type of atmosphere,” she said.

Despite what Studebagels offers, Spiewak said Einstein Bros. poses a difficult challenge for the locally owned business.

“I’m kind of worried about them actually. Einstein Bros. has been pretty crowded,” she said.

Spiewak said since Einstein Bros. offers free wireless Internet, many students see the restaurant as a place to enjoy a meal while working on schoolwork.

“I have noticed from going to Einstein Bros. that people have been doing their homework there,” she said. “They have been hanging out, eating snacks with their computers out. I don’t feel like they do that at Studebagels.”

Weiler said she is confident Studebagels’ long-standing reputation will allow its business to remain strong.

“The novelty of Einstein Bros. might attract students,” she said. “Studebagels has been so popular with students for so long that they will keep going.”