After two years of planning, The Hilltoss, The Corp’s new salad and smoothie storefront and its first new storefront in 11 years, will open in the Healey Family Student Center today.
The Corp’s last new store was Hoya Snaxa, with the opening of the Southwest Quad in 2003.
The new restaurant will provide students with a range of healthy food options including salads, snacks and drinks from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. The opening of The Hilltoss marks a milestone for The Corp as its first proper restaurant, according to Corp CEO Sam Rodman (MSB ’15). Rodman said this change brought new challenges in quality control.
“The big leap for us is to think about new regulations, new product quality and there’s a lot more preparation that goes into it, like fresh ingredients,” Rodman said. “It really folds into this idea of ensuring product quality, especially when we have a lot of strong competitors in the area that offer something similar. So that’s probably the biggest challenge, making sure we control the product quality. It’s something that we’ve been working very hard to achieve.”
Rodman said he believes The Corp will push through these obstacles, as it did when opening its first coffee shop, Uncommon Grounds, in 1994.
“It’s not the only big jump that we’ve made,” Rodman said. “We have a similar option to open coffee shops first time in 1994 when our products
had really been focusing on the groceries, something that was more service related. … From a historical perspective, though I consider this leap a bigger leap than from the groceries [to the coffee shops], I still think that we have confidence that it’s something we can push through a lot of obstacles.”
Hilltoss General Manager Monish Sabnani (MSB ’15) identified consistency as the biggest challenge in daily operations, and said that Hilltoss staff has trained for months to practice food preparation.
“As The Corp has a lot of different employees who change every semester, consistency is something that we, as upper management, have made the number one goal,” Sabnani said. “We spent tons of hours into training. … We are going for the idea that if you come in for a salad today, it’s going to be exactly what we get tomorrow, regardless of who’s working that shift.”
According to Rodman, the university reached out to The Corp in the HFSC planning process and offered them a storefront location to cater to future student needs.
“When the Healey Family Student Center was developed, it was more than a building,” Rodman said. “The university wants to ensure that students are as involved as possible in all the big decisions and developments of it. … They just want us there, knowing The Corp above all really understands student needs.”
HFSC Director Patrick Ledesma said that the location was carved out specifically for The Corp’s new business and was funded by The Corp during construction.
“We knew that we wanted The Corp’s location in the building.” Ledesma said. “Their location was funded by The Corp. That’s why it looks great and has a nice wood feel to the whole thing, which complements the building with natural elements.”
The Corp signed a contract with Auxiliary Services with confidential terms determining the operations of The Hilltoss and the relationship between two parties.
“From a qualitative perspective, the university was incredibly supportive in terms of answering questions, working with us in the process and essentially being a great landlord, but from a financial perspective, we funded the entirety of the project and are paying,” Rodman said.
Rodman said that the opening of The Hilltoss would not divert resources from other businesses The Corp currently runs.
“We financed and hired for The Hilltoss separately from our other businesses,” Rodman said. “The Hilltoss has been a strong focus this year, but we have also grown our company in other ways — Kickback, new scholarships, mobile app development, and renovations to our existing services.”
Rodman said that The Hilltoss will initially only operate on weekdays due to the current size of its staff. During the next two semesters, The Hilltoss will hire additional employees. Rodman said that after making these additional hires, The Hilltoss will likely expand to seven days a week and increase its hours of operation on a day-to-day basis.
“We try to keep our hiring classes in a manageable amount, so we’re not making any single hiring class have too many people,” Rodmand said. “At Hilltoss, we were shooting for about 15 to 20 people. We were hiring that amount so we require three shifts for new hires, and that comes out to about five days a week for shift coverage.”
The restaurant currently can accommodate between 30 and 36 customers, but plans to expand seating in the future.
“The goal is to make it the next new study spot on campus and we want to fill it up with lots of new seating. We are expecting to seat anywhere between 200 and 400 students a day,” Sabnani said.
According to Dana Mitchell (MSB ’15), Director of The Hilltoss, The Corp chose salad and smoothies as the main products of The Hilltoss based on a campus-wide survey.
“The Corp set out a campus-wide survey asking students if they wanted a deli, a salad shop, a smoothie shop, an ice-cream stand, another coffee shop or another grocery store,” Mitchell said.”The whole point of The Hilltoss is to communicate with students and to see what their needs are.”
Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services Joelle Wiese said that The Corp should evaluate the success of The Hilltoss based on student feedback.
“For any places that open any restaurant, the success is whether students like it,” Wiese said. “You have to be a place where the students want to go to. You have to support the community in many ways, have the hours of operations that students want and have the menus that students want. It has to be a place that students are happy with. And if you meet those needs of students, then you will always have people coming back.”
Jordan Sabourin (SFS ’18) welcomed the healthy food concept as a new alternative to O’Donovan Hall.
“Leo’s is not awful if you want to eat healthy,” Sabourin said. “But if you are trying to eat light, it’s very constraining to eat at Leo’s. … The healthy things tend to be the things that stay the same. It will be nice to have a bit of a change.”