Hard Hat Cafe
The Hard Hat Café, also formerly known as The Pit Stop, is the convenience food shop in the Sandford Fleming Building basement, operated by the University of Toronto Engineering Society. It was opened in the fall of 2008 as the first phase of Atrium Renovation Project. It mainly sells an assortment of fast foods and snack foods, such as pizza, Jamaican beef patties, small sandwiches, instant noodle bowls, candy, and drinks.
Currently, the Hard Hat Cafe sells mainly microwaveable and instant foods (as it is not equipped or licensed for food preparation). These items include:
- Pizza (from Cora's)
- Jamaican Beef Patties
- Instant noodle varieties
- Pizza Pops
- Microwaveable TV Dinners
- Microwaveable Wraps
- Assorted Snacks
- Assorted Pop
- Subway subs
In the 2000s, the food outlet space in the basement of the Sandford Fleming Building had been run by Sodexo, followed by Aramark, until the Atrium Renovation Project in 2008. During these years, many concerns were raised by engineering students regarding the quality and price of the food served, and were unhappy about the nature of services provided by the large multi-national corporations.
The Engineering Society took the issue to the Faculty and University, and they agreed to investigate some of the issues encountered by the students. Additionally, the Engineering Society lobbied for small organizations to be able to bid on individual outlets in the campus-wide food services RFP process, and itself submitted a serious bid to take over operations of the legacy cafeteria space (at that time a ~$300k business). This effort was not immediately successful, but served to underline the students' dissatisfaction with the status quo. By 2007, two important factors coincided that resulted in the founding of Hard Hat Cafe.
First, Aramark (who was running the outlet at the time) announced that they would not renew their lease of the space from the University, as they had been unprofitable during their stay. Second, the Engineering Society finally decided to go through with the Atrium Renovation Project, and combined its proposal for the Atrium renovation with the food outlet space. The University agreed to match funding for the renovation of the food outlet, and lease half of it to the Engineering Society (the other half would eventually be leased by Veda).
The Hard Hat Cafe officially opened in October 2008 under the direction of Jonathan Asmis (the President of EngSoc at the time), and two Cafe managers, Khadem Alam and Carissa Sutjipto.
However, in its first two years of operation, it did not operate as smoothly as intended. The store was closed a few times for various issues in its first year as the Engineering Society learned how to operate the business. Deficits were reported in each of the first two years mainly due to inexperience in the food business and slow reception from students. In 2010, a revised business plan was proposed by the Cafe managers Donnie Yee and Gibran Kichlu with a renewed focus on marketing (including more use of social media and targeted campaigns during F!rosh Week). Pre-made sandwiches and salads were also largely removed from the inventory, as they were easily spoiled and unpopular with students. New products were introduced, such as microwaveable frozen foods, instant noodles, and a wider variety of drinks, which combined for record sales throughout 2010-2011.