Why We’re Selling WesWings

By now most have you have heard the rumor that WesWings was being sold.  It’s hard to keep a secret in the age of Facebook, twitter and Karen.  It has not been an easy decision for us.  For over 20 years, we have enjoyed meeting the thousands of students and frying their food.  We both realized that it was time to move on.  Working nights can be tiring and the winter break is too long.

The new owners have promised to keep the name and the decor, but as vegans, plan to make several changes to the menu.  They tell us that their locally sourced soybean cookie dough is quite good.  (so at least you can still get your cookie dough fix)

As for us, fortunately the money we’ve sold WesWings for combined with what we’ve charged for mozzarella sticks over the years, will allow us to retire quite comfortably.

We wish everyone the best.

-Karen & Ed

Thank You!

We’re not sure how everyone else feels, but at WesWings and the Red & Black Cafe, we’re getting a little tired of this whole extreme weather global climate change thing.  We are very proud of our staff at WesWings and the fact that we remained open throughout the entire event.

It was more difficult for the cafe to keep open due to the fact that we share the space with Broad St Books and cannot operate if they are unable provide staff.  (besides selling books is not that critical during a blizzard)

WesWings’ staff was incredible throughout.  On Friday, most of our full-time and student staff reported for dinner.  After dinner, our chef Bill Nardi, walked to the Middletown Inn (his weekend accommodations) in blizzard conditions as did many of our other employees.   photo (1) By Saturday morning as we all awoke to upwards of three feet of snow, Bill returned to WesWings to prepare for the day.  The grounds crew from Stonehenge cleared a path both in the parking lot and through the side yard to allow students to get to our front door.  With a pared down menu, we served between 500-600 students brunch.  It was the busiest brunch in the history of WesWings.  Over two hundred breakfast pails alone.

Dinner went down as the busiest as well with over 700 students fed during the three-hour period.  That’s an average of one customer every fifteen seconds, for three hours  MADE TO ORDER.  The line stretched to the parking lot the entire night.  While we may have made a few mistakes, everyone was patient and it was never anything so bad that a little cookie dough couldn’t fix.

By Sunday, Karen and Ed were both able to travel to Middletown to help.  The numbers were similar to Saturday.  Sunday brunch become the new number one, and dinner a close second to Saturday.photo (3)

The line still stretched out the door.

 

 

 

 

 

The crowds inside were pretty intense as well.photo (2)

 

 

 

 

 

While we owe so many of our employees a great deal of thanks, it was the Saturday crew that held it all together in our absence.

  • Bill Nardi, Chef/Hold the place together chief
  • Job Vasquez, sous chef/place falls apart without guy
  • Rick Kmietek, cook/fastest sandwich maker ever!
  • Michael Mitchell, cook/hardcore cook
  • Ralph Morton, dishwasher/lifesaver
  • Serena Berry, student worker/cashier extraordinaire
  • Vivian Deng, student worker/coordinator powerhouse
  • Emmie Finckel, student worker/marathon cashier
  • Jackie Freed, student worker/brunch cashier queen
  • Liza Goodstein, student worker/coordinator superstar
  • George Gore, student worker/chicken parm master
  • Elizabeth Litvitskiy, student worker/coordinating wonder
  • Reid Meador, Student worker/coordinator stalwart
  • Alex Papadogiannis, student worker/dominator of the fryolator
  • Tong Satayopas, student worker/super helper
  • Michaela Tolman, student worker/lost without her

Finally, members of the University deserve everyone’s gratitude.  For us, specifically,

  • Nate Peters, Associate Vice President for Finance
  • Joyce Topshe, Associate Vice President for Facilities (personally shovelled out the Red & Black Cafe)
  • Everyone at Stonehenge
  • Tennessee and Rebecca, two Red & Black customers who help shovel the front steps so we could open the building

We hope we didn’t miss anyone and if we did, please send us a comment and we’ll update accordingly.

Karen & Ed

Music Monday Feb. 4th with Alma Eppchez

Music Monday has become THE place to be on a Monday night when you have a hankering for fine music coupled with a delicious cafe’ menu that includes fab grilled panini-delicious hot coffee drinks and frosty fruit smoothies- just to name a few items on the menu.
Alma is one of our favorite Wesleyan musicians. Her alternate tunings and deft guitar stylings; combined with introspective, world weary lyrics are a musical wonderment.

Our Position on the Bookstore Relocation

On November 9th the university announced a proposal to relocate the bookstore. They have sought input from the campus and we assume the overall Wesleyan community. We applaud Nate Peters and Joyce Topshe for their openness and transparency during this process. While it is not typical for businesses with current contracts with the university to comment publicly, no one would ever accuse us of being “typical business people.”

We have been associated with Wesleyan and Middletown for more than two decades. In 1991 we created Wes Wings. During the 90s, we purchased the “Pythian Building” at 360 Main street and opened Eleanor Rigby’s Gourmet Deli and Cafe. In addition, we renovated the historic Main street building, added office tenants and took part in the downtown’s revitalization serving on the Main Street USA committee, the precursor of today’s downtown business district. In 2003, after having sold both Eleanor Rigby’s and the Pythian building, Wesleyan approached us to take part in the new bookstore project converting the privately owned Atticus Books to Broad Street Books. While Wesleyan managed the bookstore through their partner, Follett HEG, we created the Red & Black Cafe. Both Follett and Red & Black hired the existing employees of Atticus Books as is the policy of Wesleyan. We are proud of the fact that after almost ten years, four out of the five full-time employees we inherited from Atticus are still with us today.

We have approached our position on the proposed relocation in two parts. There is the issue of whether the bookstore should move and then the issue of what happens to the Red & Black Cafe if it does. The Red & Black Cafe is located inside the bookstore but operates as a separate entity. While we do both share customers from time to time, we are not dependent on this coexistence. We are overwhelmingly a campus dining facility (90% meal plan) that happens to be open to the public.

Should the bookstore move? No.

Our view on this is more as members of the Wesleyan community, not owners of the cafe. There have been two potential benefits listed in the proposal. The second is the hope that the “new businesses would enhance connections between the campus and downtown.” We will let our friend, Jen Alexander ’88, speak to that issue as she did in a blog post. Jen’s views carry weight, as the creator of Kid City, a resident of the neighborhood and an active alum whose community work the university felt deserving of recognition with an honorary degree.

The first benefit is “a long-term reduction in our overhead costs for our current model of the bookstore”. In plain terms, the bookstore doesn’t make the kind of money it used to. We believe this is exactly the reason why Wesleyan must keep the bookstore. We’ll say it again. Because the bookstore has been generating less income for the university is the biggest argument to keep it.

Ten years ago Broad Street Books entered a fairly stable market. Wesleyan told them what textbooks to order, the students lined up and cash registers didn’t stop for two weeks. While other independent bookstores were closing from competition from the big box stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, stores like Broad Street still thrived from a textbook market that was essentially a monopoly.

Over the years, the business of bookstores has changed dramatically. The giants like B&N and Borders have seen their market share sink to Amazon and countless other online sellers. Textbook sales have seen a steady decline as students have found other sellers. While we don’t know exact numbers, we have witnessed a precipitous decline in students during “book rush.” Now we are experiencing the rise of Kindles, Nooks and iPads and the downloadable e-book. In recent years, Borders has filed for bankruptcy, and Barnes & Noble is trying to decide where it goes. The same economic and technological forces that have affected Broad Street Books will no doubt affect whatever new bookseller occupies space in the proposed development. Wesleyan is not a business, Wesleyan is a university. There are many facets and operations on campus that may not make sense to a business but are vital to a university. An active fully functioning school bookstore is the university’s welcome mat to prospective students and their families. It is a primary stop for alumni returning to campus. And finally it is critical for students and faculty for books, gear and supplies.

If a private bookstore, with no contract with the university takes over the responsibility of “campus bookstore,” what will happen when they decide to close? Unlike the current bookstore, there will be no contract or responsibility to continue operations until a suitable replacement is found. The university could potentially be left without a provider of textbooks and gear just before the start of a semester or perhaps before homecoming or commencement and reunion weekend.

The bookstore business is not in transition, it is in disarray. As technology changes, so does the business model and nobody can say for sure where it will be next year, let alone five years. Will everyone have a Kindle or iPad? Will schools adopt a streaming model where students pay one fee for unlimited online access to their textbooks? Wherever the trends are going, Wesleyan needs to be in control.

What Happens to The Red & Black Café?

Now we touch upon an area that is personal and affects us directly. If the bookstore at 45 Broad St. does in fact close, this proposal has not specifically addressed what happens to the remaining occupants of the building. It has not been said if the building would be sold. Presumably the long-term costs of the building increase without the income stream of the bookstore. Would the Argus and radio station move? We assume closing both of them is not an option. The Red & Black Cafe, however, is not as safe. According to a recent article in the Argus

Should the bookstore be closed, it remains unclear whether or not Red and Black would move, stay at its current location, or simply close.

“As far as I’m concerned, Red and Black is the biggest question mark,” Trexler said. “We’re not really sure what the future of Red and Black would be if we did make the move… If we did move to the new location, we wouldn’t own that [new] building but we’d still own the [current] building, so we could use it for some other purpose. Red and Black might stay where it is, it may move. I really don’t know.”

We are stunned by this. Like we said, now it gets personal. The Red & Black Café has been an integral part of Wesleyan for almost a decade. While the business model of the bookstore may no longer work, the business model of the Cafe is outstanding. The cafe generates tens of thousands of dollars for the university every year. (Not to mention our contributions to financial aid.) We provide employment for students and have consistently been one of the most popular places to eat, study and socialize on campus.

We are reluctant to discuss the tragic events of May 6, 2009. This campus suffered greatly that day and in the months and years that followed. We will only say this. In the days that followed, we were asked “if we wanted to close the cafe. Everyone would understand if you closed”, we were told. We explained that our staff, “the core four” as we fondly refer to them, had personally experienced a horror like none other. They would be forever changed. We could not compound their misery by taking away their livelihood and in some cases, the only jobs they had ever known.

It has taken a great deal of time and effort to rebuild the Red & Black Cafe. Wesleyan was incredibly generous in funding a redesign. The administration, faculty and staff were as helpful and understanding as could be. The first year was slow as students were reluctant to come back. But we never gave up as we kept trying increase our business. We are currently experiencing one of our busiest and most profitable years ever. We refused to let the actions of a murderer shut us down and we certainly won’t be closed because of a developer’s plans.

We know what has been put forward is simply a proposal. We also believe there are no plans to close the cafe. But nobody has ruled it out. We are asking both the WSA and the administration to take us out of the equation. Both need to state that whatever happens to the bookstore, the Red & Black Cafe, like its neighbors the Argus and WESU, will either continue in its current location or an appropriate location elsewhere on campus.

We look forward to hearing other views on the subject at the forum on Tuesday, November 27, at 4:30 pm in 41 Wyllys, room 112.

-Karen & Ed

Music Monday 11/12- Call It Arson

Call It Arson is a 5 piece rock act whose music has been lauded on the music blogosphere and in local papers alike. For this stripped down, acoustic performance they’ll leave the amps and drums at home, but bring all the fire and fury of the tunes in a more appropriate form for the cafe’. Come hear their fine original songs with a sprinkle of carefully chosen covers tonight at The Red & Black Cafe’- located in The Broad St Books Wesleyan Bookstore.
Have a grilled panino- a warm and delicious coffee drink or a frosty fruit smoothie and join the groove of Call It Arson.

Cafe Music Monday 11/5 with the Sawtelles

Monday series continues in the face of the election with Middletown faves-The Sawtelles. Frequently found at Typhoon or Javapaloser, this duo is very busy indeed- they’ve played almost every Farmer’s Market in the state and are frequently found on the stages of Connecticut clubs. Recently they released a split live CD with Frank Critelli- recorded live at The Buttonwood Tree by The Coffee House recording stdio wiz Mike Arafeh.
Come tonight and have a coffee drink- a frosty fruit smoothie and a grilled panino- and enjoy this harmonious act.

Music Monday 10/22 with Katie & Caroline 6:30-7:30

It’s yet another Red & Black employee showing their musical talent as our own Katie brings her pal Caroline in to sing and entertain us.
Come in for a bowl of hot soup- a grilled panino or a frosty fruit smoothie and be pleasantly and musically pleased. Oh wait!!!! that’s certainly not Caroline in the pic!!!Obviously, more surprises in store….

Music Monday October 8th with The Cartographers

This exciting new duo features our very own Rachel Rosengard and is destined to be one of our most exciting editions of Music Monday. She’s a uke virtuoso and their selection of beguiling cover tunes will charm the pants off ya!
One literally cannot begin to imagine the list of songs these two Wes hipsters will bring to the table. A table loaded with delicious panini s, frosty fruit smoothies and tasty coffee drinks.

RBC Music Monday Oct 1 @6:30 with The Grimm Generation

Music Monday chugs right along with the upcoming full combo version of The Grimm Generation this coming Monday. They’ve been playing for us every semester for a few years now, but this will be the biggest show yet! All pumped and primed for their appearance at The Independisc Birthday Bash on the weekend- we’ll be treated to their brand new bunch of songs as well as the familiar personal faves..
Perhaps the muse will be in attendance.
So come grab a panino, slurp a Smoothie or sip a cup of steaming fresh coffee and relax with The Grimm Generation.