By Ariel Wodarcyk
In the past decade, Marshall Street has completely transformed. Student favorites like Chuck’s, 44’s and Cosmo’s Pizza, which was on Marshall for over 50 years, are out. The shuttering of Marshall Street staples has proved that no one’s safe from cutthroat business competition.
Now, there are two pizza restaurants, at least four Asian-fusion spots, two sushi restaurants, and two Indian restaurants (the third closed this year) all in a block radius. With so many similar restaurants, owners have to be extra savvy to keep their businesses thriving.
Parking, the absence of students during long breaks, high rent costs, and Grubhub are all challenges for the owners. Available parking is rare and police are vigilant about ticketing. “It’s literally atrocious, especially now with all the construction going on,” Yvonne Spears from King David’s says. “It’s not fair to businesses, and it’s not fair to students as well. Nobody wants to come to dinner and get two tickets on the way.”
During class breaks, while we’re out traveling, interning, or shut in with the ‘rents, Steven Papazides, manager at Acropolis Pizza House, says, “business is cut in half.” Because Acropolis was formerly on Westcott, the restaurant has a loyal local fanbase, but other restaurants said that locals don’t usually come to Marshall because of all the parking and construction issues.
Grubhub, our go-to, has helped restaurants become more accessible to students, but as it grows, the commission it demands rises higher and higher. 10% is the minimum a restaurant has to give Grubhub in order to appear on the app. If they don’t have their own drivers to deliver the food, Grubhub takes a 20% commission. For small, low-cost orders, the commission rises to 30% (now we know the reason for those $20 minimums). “You’re not making no money now,” Papazides says. “They’re probably making more money than you, the owner.”
Amidst all the turnaround, the strong student and medical community have kept a few family businesses booming. Spears, who has worked at Middle Eastern spot King David’s since the mid-70s, credits the restaurant’s success to the strong ties owner Charlie Hatem and his family have created with customers. “Businesses come and go,” Spears says, “but the interaction of people makes a huge difference.”
Keeping business in the family also cuts costs. This is the strategy that Zou, manager of Oishi Sushi, has used to keep his restaurant open for 10 years. Because he works with family, Zhou says, the restaurant can focus on serving quality food at an affordable price, rather than worry about paying for extra labor.
Alfred Lam, the owner of the first Chinese restaurant on Marshall, Panda West, has followed a similar approach. He owned three restaurants before he opened Panda West 26 years ago, and he knew hiring outside the family would lead to too much time and energy spent on training staff. “It’s very seasonal here,” Lam says, “so it’s hard to keep people working.”
Another huge part of staying alive on Marshall? Being versatile and listening to customer demands. Papazides of Acropolis says he always welcomes new additions to the 35-year-old restaurant’s menu. Once a group of three families left because they didn’t serve hamburgers, the only food one of their sons would eat. “$150 walked out the door because I didn’t have a burger!” Papazides says. The menu has now expanded to include Jamaican beef patties, at the request of students from New York City, and will soon have premade sandwiches for professionals to grab on a short lunch break.
Kamran Khan, co-owner and chef at Moghul Indian Grill, also credits his success to “going the extra mile, meaning asking people for their allergies or what they prefer.” Moghul makes clear that his menu is gluten-free, nut-free, vegan, and vegetarian, which helps set the restaurant apart for health-conscious eaters.
The key to success that King David’s, Acropolis Pizza House, Oishi Sushi, Panda West, and Moghul Indian Grill can agree on, is to serve delicious, high-quality food at a student-friendly price. “When you serve good food, people come,” Lam says.
Anyone else hungry?
Photo by Syracuse.com