Last spring, The Corp’s newest endeavor, The Hilltoss, debuted at the Georgetown University Farmer’s Market. A response to student demands for healthier options on campus, the salad and smoothie storefront will open Nov. 1.
While originally scheduled to open in conjunction with the Healey Family Student Center on Sept. 5, the storefront’s delayed opening is primarily a result of switching restaurant consultants, a decision made the previous November by former Students of Georgetown Inc. CEO Lizzy Macgill (COL ’14) and former Hilltoss Director Ellen Wilcox (COL ’14) over disagreements about plans for the storefront.
“They were having issues with communication, and so because we had to redraw a lot of the designs, it just pushed the project back,” Corp CEO Sam Rodman (MSB ’15) said.
The revised opening plans are still on schedule. Although most of the work being done in regard to construction has been off-site, Rodman is confident The Hilltoss will be able to debut on the expected date.
“They’re very close to wrapping on the main building, and they’ll probably do the bulk of our construction during the two months before opening,” Rodman said. “So right now we’re completely on track to open on Nov. 1.”
The challenges posed by building a student-run business from the ground up have not been restricted to relationships with restaurant consultants.
“We’re students taking on a construction project of a pretty large magnitude. This is a project that’s essentially been in the works for three years, so we have learned a ton along the way,” Rodman said. “Obviously, though, there’s something new that we encounter that we have to think through every single day.”
Managing the number of employees has proved to be difficult. While quicker service and longer hours will mandate more workers, the current staff is relatively small, amounting to only 40 members, approximately one-third the size of other Corp locations.
“Vittles has 60, 65 employees at its peak. You can’t hire 70 people all at once,” Rodman said. “You have to find a way to scale up while keeping your hours reasonable and your store profitable all at once.”
Upcoming hiring periods will work to expand the staff, primarily by overhiring for the next two years, but current employees are not impeded in their work because of a lack of physical storefront.
“We have a schedule built out for every single week,” Hilltoss Director Dana Mitchell (MSB ’15) said, of upcoming campus engagement events. “For example, when the actual facility opens on Sept. 5, we’re going to be serving samples right in front of our store.”
Employees are directly involved in planning the events, as well as preparing salads on the actual day.
However, students should not expect to purchase a Jay Gatsby or a Far East Movement, several popular options, at the Farmer’s Market this semester. With extensive marketing plans for the fall, opportunities to get a salad before the opening of the store will be restricted. Upper management is focused on branding and promotion so that when November rolls around, students will choose The Hilltoss over Salad Creations or Sweetgreen.
“Most new stores wouldn’t try to launch a marketing campaign of this length and scope, but because The Hilltoss is a new service on campus, we just really want to put our product at the forefront of all of our marketing,” Rodman said.
“We want to make sure our customers are bought into the idea of consuming a delicious, healthy Hilltoss salad before the store even opens.”
Further marketing pushes will include social media and print campaigns, as well as partnerships with various student groups, such as GIVES in order to implement Random Acts of Kindness.
“We love being able to really surprise the community and show the community we’re here for you and the point of doing this is to serve a need of healthy food,” Mitchell said.