College town businesses innovate to generate business

Posted at 1:41 PM, Oct 23, 2020

When students and faculty disappeared from universities, so did the customers that college town businesses rely on.

“We’re finding that the professor, administrator market is vaporized. It’s all students, delivery, and locals in the area. Our outreach to them, letting them know we’re open," said Justin Nedelman, CEO of the Eureka! Restaurant Group.

Located in several college towns, Eureka! strives to give customers an experience they can't get at home.

"No crap on tap, 100 percent American bar and we wanted people that were curious," said Nedelman. “As a restaurant owner, you have to just lean in during these times, rather than just try to survive you’ve got to thrive. The only way to thrive is to get really innovative.”

Nedelman says before the pandemic, third-party delivery made up only a fraction of business. In the last six months, it's almost tripled.

One of their locations sits directly on the San Diego State University campus and has been one of their hardest hit. Pre-pandemic, Nedelman estimates 65 percent of their business was college faculty, which has all but disappeared. Students who stayed behind have actually helped keep the restaurant afloat, now that they have fewer dining options open around campus.

“We were, and still hope to remain once coronavirus is gone, a halfway point, walking from home to school, coming back to school," said Nedelman.

In addition to more outside seating and patio partitions, Eureka spent the last four months developing technology to ensure customers feel safe. In November, diners will be able to scan their phones at the door for a fully contactless experience, seating themselves, ordering food, and paying the bill with their phone.

“It’s reimagining what the future is going to look like. It’s a big fast-forward to the future of casual dining and for us," said Nedelman.

Knowing they won’t be able to rely on crowds from sporting events and campus traffic, the restaurant is working overtime to let local residents know they’re open for business.

“If you live in a college market, the best thing you can do is support local," said Nedelman.

While business at the San Diego location is still down 50 percent, Nedelman believes their forward-thinking innovations will pay off in the months to come.

“It’s worth getting in your car, putting on your pants, getting off Zoom, and coming in," Nedelman said.