Drexel University has a New Twist for Food

The Lempert Report
May 03, 2019

What is a "Student CEO"?

As many of our long time readers and viewers know my undergraduate studies were at Drexel in Philadelphia – adjacent to the Penn campus. Foodservice in those days meant going to the food trucks, typically run by fraternities or newly arrived immigrants offering exotic and delicious foods. Or buying a soft pretzel as 2 for 25 cents. Yes, it was that long ago.

But now things have changed and now according to a report on Philly.com, Doug Green, a managing principal at MSC Retail, whose MSC University unit focuses on retail real estate in higher education says, “It’s been a slow burn to get colleges to realize how critical the retail and restaurants scene plays on the college campus experience. But it’s really starting to snowball, and you’re starting to see more and more schools recognize what they have, recognize what they need.”

Academia has become increasingly competitive in attracting top students and staff, as we have noted in recent headlines and universities are turning to retail to create study, work, and play environments that set themselves apart. Drexel has long had a co-op program – but this goes one step further, Philly.com writes as brick-and-mortar stores struggle to compete with online retailers. Research shows what we have said here for a few years now that the upcoming generation of college students is fiercely brand-loyal and often prefers a hands-on and extraordinary shopping experience.

Saxbys on 34th Street is within walking distance of a Wawa, 7-Eleven, and Starbucks. A Chipotle, Insomnia Cookies, Blaze Pizza, and Drexel’s food court Urban Eatery are nearby. Alyssa Bennett, who is 21, and a third year Drexel student, makes deposits, sets schedules, and pitches in at the latte machine when the line gets long.

The third-year Drexel student is what Saxbys calls a “Student CEO,” that’s cafe executive officer. In locations on or near college campuses in Pennsylvania, Washington, Georgia, and New Hampshire, the coffee company hands over operations to a local student for the semester, paying them above minimum wage to run the cafe full time while also receiving class credits.

Drexel president John Fry called this twist on the campus coffeehouse “exactly the kind of thing that we want.”He told Philly.com,“another coffee shop? Who cares. But a student-run Saxbys? (that’s) Great”  

Saxbys CEO Nick Bayer says the university locations gave the company insight into the emerging demand for cold brew coffee over regular hot coffee. This happened “far sooner” at college campuses, he said, and the company responded by creating a cold brew collection with signature flavors. This has since spread to the company’s noncollege locations.

Bayer says that “Our more urban cafes in places like Drexel, we’re seeing a nice glimpse into what sort of trends and buying profiles future consumers are looking for because we’re serving that 18- to 24-year-old so closely.”