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Good Food and Nightlife at Harvard?

The House Grills

By Grace Fan

What do fish pizziola and frozen yogurt have to do with each other?

When the dining halls serve one, the 11 House grills serve more of the other.

The student-run House grills operate independently from the Harvard dining halls, but many grill owners and other students agree that a bad night at the dining hall is one of the important factors in determining the level of success in the grills.

"On nights the dining services have a bad meal, we do incredible business," says Danny Ramos '91, co-owner of the Kirkland House grill. "The whole house comes down."

And Carlos J. Menendez '91, one of the Quincy grill owners, agrees, "If dinner's really bad, the nights are really good."

But the quality of Harvard's dining hall fare is only one of the many things which the House grill owners say make the difference between a big night at a House grill and four lonely hours behind a counter.

Students say that the location of the grills makes a noticeable difference in the nightly attendance.

The Quincy grill, for example, is in a central location while the Lowell and Winthrop grills are tucked away in the basements.

According to owner estimates, Quincy serves about 70 people each night, but the grills in Lowell and Winthrop only serve 25-40 people on any given night.

"The location is the problem," says Larry Leathers '91, manager of the Lowell grill. "The food is really good, but the location impedes the progress it might make."

And when a grill is in a central location in a House which is out of the way--like North House--location can be even more important. According to its owners, North House serves 100-150 people on an average night--more than any other House grill.

"There's no other place to get food and hang out unless you want to walk to the Square," says Megan Todd '91, a Quad resident. "Having a grill is great."

Atmosphere is also very important to the success of the grill, students say, adding that if a grill has a good atmosphere it will attract people who just want to come socialize.

"I come here a lot," say Alex Fiks '92, a resident of North House. "They have good food and a comfortable atmosphere."

But the Eliot House grill, on the other hand, "leaks gas," grill customer John Stanley '90 says. "This is not a good atmosphere--it is not conducive to eating."

And students cite a variety of factors--particularly movies and other entertainment paraphernalia--as contributing to the atmosphere of a grill.

The Cabot Grill, for example, has an adjoining room which contains a pool table, a ping-pong table, three arcade games, a Foosball machine and a piano. The large-screen TV and VCR are in another room.

The Lowell Grill has only a small TV and some furniture. The Foosball machine stands broken in one corner.

Foosball, however, is not the only draw for grill customers. Students and owners agree that grills with regular showings of movies entice more students to come each night.

Quincy, Kirkland, Cabot, Eliot and Leverett all show movies every night they are open. At some grills, students say, the movies attract more people than the food.

"People just come for the movies," says Stanley of the Eliot House grill. "The food is not the best here. This grill is not the focal point of House life."

But in many grills all the atmosphere is only an extra with what students say is actually pretty good food.

Students and grill owners say that the most popular foods are pizza, hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Popular side-orders include frappes, mozzarella sticks, milkshakes, french fries and nachos.

But in three of the Houses, a new food innovation is surpassing all the old standards in popularity. Mather, Quincy and North have all recently acquired frozen yogurt machines.

"We don't come here a lot, but we'll come here a lot more now that they have frozen yogurt," say Cris Paglinauan '92, a resident of Quincy House.

And Judy Melinek '92, another Quincy House resident, says she has been at the grill every night since they got "the fro-yo machine."

Bringing in a Profit

The grills are--for the most part--profitable, owners say, claiming a net profit of $20--150 a night. The Kirkland grill boasts the highest estimated profit, despite the fact that they only have an average of 50 customers a night.

"It's because of the number of varsity athletes," Ramos says. "They eat more."

The profit in each of the grills is distributed differently. In North, Leverett and Cabot, the grill owners keep whatever money they can make.

The proprietors of the Dunster and Lowell grills, on the other hand, place their profits into an account for reinvestment back into the grill.

And the owners of the Quincy and Mather grills are paid a set salary. These grills are non-profit organizations which pay all the profits to the House Committee at the end of the year.

The proprietors of most of the grills say that in general they are not looking to make much of a profit. They say their motivation for working in a grill is to provide the students of the House a place to socialize.

Says Christine Yang '91, the co-owner of the Cabot grill, "The grill is more of a service to bring up House spirit. We know the grill is good for the House. We're not in this for the money."

'An Excuse to be Social'

And students working at many of the grills say they enjoy the social atmosphere and the chance to meet many of the students in the House.

"It's a lot of fun working here," say Ed Perrin '91, who works at the Lowell grill. "It's like doing an extracurricular and getting paid for it."

Beth Ortner '90, a student who works at the North grill, says she agrees. "The work is mainly an excuse to be social."

And many owners cite business experience as an important motivation for taking on the sometimes time-consuming operation of a grill.

"It's an incredible learning experience," says Laurie Ciarti '90, a co-proprietor for the Dunster grill. "It teaches you how to run a business, how to deal with people and keep a payroll."

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