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Taco Bell, Pizza Hut to replace Sbarro in fall

Kristen Durbin | Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When students return to campus for the fall 2012 semester, they will have two new fast-food dining options to choose from in the Huddle Food Court in LaFortune Student Center.

On Monday, Food Services announced its plans to open Taco Bell and Pizza Hut franchise concepts in the current location of Sbarro this fall. The addition of the restaurants will be the first franchise change in the Huddle since 2003, Food Services director David Prentkowski said.

“It’s been 10 years since Sbarro went in, so it’s time for a change. I’m excited for it,” he said.

Prentkowski said the decision to replace Sbarro has been deliberated for the past three years due to the approaching expiration of the franchise’s contract and its decline in business.

“Over the last few years, we saw Sbarro’s business decline, and the overall student satisfaction with and preference for Sbarro as a brand declined as well according to surveys, so we took the upcoming expiration of the franchise agreement as a good opportunity to take a look at our alternatives,” Prentkowski said.

Jim LaBella, the general manager of the Huddle, said the decision to bring Taco Bell and Pizza Hut to Notre Dame was finalized on Friday after being under serious consideration since last September.

“It was a pretty long process, but we did come to a unanimous decision with almost all parties involved to replace Sbarro with Taco Bell and Pizza Hut,” LaBella said. “They are run by the same parent company, so they do combination stores, and we wanted to have both Taco Bell and a pizza option for students.”

Prentkowski said Food Services worked with Student Government and the Office of Student Affairs to determine brand concepts that would work well based on student preference, patterns of usage and the physical space of the current Sbarro location.

“In our undergraduate and graduate student focus groups, we asked questions in surveys about brand preferences and combinations, and there was nothing but support for our decision to go this particular direction,” he said. “We were pleasantly surprised that the combined Taco Bell and Pizza Hut concept would fit, and the company was very excited about working with us to put it in place … They scaled their operation to make it work with our needs.”

LaBella said the original list of possible franchise options was extensive, but it was narrowed down to include Moe’s Southwestern Grill, Qdoba Mexican Grill and Papa John’s Pizza, in addition to the chosen Taco Bell/Pizza Hut combination.

“Some of the options just weren’t possible due to franchise issues or existing contracts with local units,” he said. “Qdoba wasn’t possible because they needed more space for a big kitchen.”

The final decision was made to accommodate the survey-based student preferences for Mexican, Asian and pizza concepts in the Huddle, Prentkowski said.

“When we add Taco Bell, we won’t need the Buen Provecho burrito stand in the Huddle,” he said. “Our goal is to eventually convert that area to a Panda Express sometime in the fall semester.”

Prentkowski said Taco Bell and Pizza Hut will likely be ready for operation close to the start of the 2012-2013 school year, barring any complications due to construction, timing and legal or contractual matters.

“We’re in the beginning stages right now. We’re looking at the physical renovation, training for staff and managers and the legal aspect of franchise agreements and contracts,” he said.

“A lot of things have to come together to make it all work, but I don’t see any barrier to getting this done in a reasonable amount of time.”

Student response to the announced changes has been generally favorable, especially in relation to Taco Bell’s arrival on campus.

Junior Rachel Pilla said the addition of Taco Bell would be exciting.

“My senior year will be forever changed. Taco Bell is my life,” she said. “It is an incredible improvement. [I] couldn’t have asked for anything better to replace [Sbarro] than Taco Bell.”

Sophomore Patrick Jung, a former Taco Bell employee, said he welcomes the franchise to campus.

“I’m extremely excited for there to be a Taco Bell … I personally worked at a Taco Bell back home and love the food there,” he said. “I think they’ll get a ton of business, especially at night … I will spend almost all of my Flex Points there.”

Despite its health drawbacks, junior Emily Hefferon said Taco Bell will be a good fit for the Notre Dame student body.

“Obviously, there’s healthier options out there, but this is college,” she said. “As far as popularity and affordability for our age group, this was an excellent choice.”

Contact Kristen Durbin at kdurbin@nd.edu