Ninja fills lonely gap in student center

By Chase Myers, @chasemyers_DE

For anyone venturing to the Student Center with an empty stomach, the words “Ninja Noodles and Rice” may raise an eyebrow or two.

The grand opening of Ninja Noodles and Rice on March 30 at the Student Center provided students with samples and prizes associated with the new restaurant, which opens from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.

The food is organized in a “choose-your-toppings” fashion where students build a meal from the ground up. After the choice of steamed rice or noodles, customers are allowed to pick from an assortment of meats, sauces and vegetables.

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Although people take notice when a new restaurant pops up in the Student Center out of thin air, few realize the logistics behind restaurant’s arrival.

One misconception is the Undergraduate Student Government oversees the process of student food options, but in fact, the only influence the USG has is its senator seat on the Student Center Advisory Board, USG President Cameron Shulak said.

Franchises like Subway, Starbucks and McDonald’s started in the Student Center with a proposal. They fill out an application, which is chosen from a committee on the Student Center Advisory Board, Student Center Director Tena Bennett said.

Everything else in the building is a concept developed and operated by the school, from food preparation to serving, Bennett said.

Other than regulations and guidelines set by the franchises, the day-to-day operations are controlled by SIU, and student workers move around from shop to shop daily, Chris Mcgregor, grill cook at Ninja said.

“We are only a team of nine people that are employed by SIU,” he said.  “We could not serve all these people on a daily basis, so [student workers] are there to help us”

The location of Ninja Noodles could be troublesome for business because of the distance between the restaurant and the rest of the marketplace, he said.

“What we wanted to see was more business to the food court, and what it’s doing is just splitting it up,” he said.  “But it gives the kids something else. What we are shooting for later on down the road is a little more variety.”

Ninja’s territory has had a consistent motif of Asian cuisine, replacing Jow Jing, an Asian restaurant that offered sushi two years ago. Before Jow Jing, a food venture named “Chef Yan Can Cook,” was the tenant, which flopped after just one year, closing in 2009.

“We knew we wanted some sort of an Asian concept of that Asian flair food,” Bennett said. “We felt like we were lacking in that, so we have always leaned toward that.”

Students have shown mixed feelings about Ninja’s business thus far and the main issue has been the price of food, Laura McFarland, a senior from St. Louis studying linguistics, said.

“Most of the people I have talked to who have gotten it said they would not get it again unless they lower the price,” Mcfarland said.

The idea of an Asian restaurant has not been a hindering element to marketplace business, as some students do enjoy the food.

“You get a big portion, and I like it,” said Drake Anthony, a senior from Goodfield studying chemistry, physics and math. “I do not know if it is because of the time of day I go, but it is not really packed there ever.”

While some people feel the location is a problem, others find it slightly more convenient.

“I like it because I get to skip [the Marketplace Food Court] line,” said Brian Heine, a senior from Ava studying chemistry. “There is only one line for that one and most of the time my food choices are dependent on how much time I have to eat that day.”

As the restaurant continues to grow, the business may follow suit, but the initial concerns seem to outweigh the pros during Ninja’s infancy. 

“I’ll continue to eat there. I like the big meal portion because I do not eat breakfast,” Anthony said. “But, it is definitely a more fragile business than say Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s or Subway.”

Chase Meyers can be reached at [email protected]

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