March 11, 2003

New Subway fills late-night niche with food and cricket passion

Marketing chiefly to University students, the new Subway franchise on 55th Street has attracted a notable swarm of business. The venue, the second Subway in Hyde Park, has established a separate identity by remaining open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and by providing customers with free Internet access--both invaluable assets to weary students studying late into the night.

When the franchise first opened, it was only open until 12 a.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. Students started appearing in large numbers at closing time, asking for food and a place to study, and the management decided to test an open-door policy for a week. After an encouraging response, it became permanent.

"People are constantly coming in, even at 2 or 3 in the morning," said a Subway manager who asked to remain anonymous. "We get 20 to 30 people coming in here every hour."

To appeal to the unusual tastes of its late-night crowd, Subway started showing international cricket matches that are broadcast during early morning hours in the United States because of time zone differences. Many foreign students flock to the location between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. to view their favorite teams in matches that would otherwise be difficult to watch.

"If we get a rush, we get between 20 and 40 people coming in each hour, but during the cricket matches, there are over 60 people in here at a time," the manager said.

Two weekends ago, a match between India and Pakistan attracted a particularly large and enthusiastic crowd to the restaurant. Some Pakistani students wore paint on their face and wielded their country's flag, while the generally older Indian crowd filled the back of the restaurant, standing when there were no more tables available. After each exciting play, the entire crowd would burst into cheers and taunts.

"It was really packed," said Will Dawoodi, a fourth-year in the College. "It was really fun."

Since it is located only a few blocks from the lake, students from Shoreland Hall have been some of the restaurant's most frequent customers, along with residents of the Windermere, an apartment building located across the street from the Museum of Science and Industry. "In the middle of the night, people go [there to eat]," said Ryan Sharbek, a fourth-year in the College and Shoreland resident. "It's the perfect location."

The Subway Corporation has been growing faster than any other fast-food chain in the world. The chain of restaurants--named the most popular franchise by Entrepreneur Magazine for the third year running--sits at the top of the franchise industry, a sector that grosses more than $1 trillion per year in U.S. sales. As a result of this growth, Subway franchises outnumbered McDonald's franchises last year and became the most widespread chain in both the United States and Canada.

Economic uncertainty has fueled a recent expansion of franchise businesses--relatively safe investments--in many communities around the country. While 80 percent of independent restaurants fold within their first year, only 20 percent of franchises go out of business in the same time period.

"People are not taking as many risks today," said Lauren Alspaugh, executive director at the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce. "People are going to things that have a better chance of succeeding."

With two Subways now in Hyde Park, some neighborhood officials are becoming sensitive to issues of over-commercialization. "Ultimately, we would like to see a more diverse set of restaurants," Alspaugh said.

But students have responded well to the second Subway, and seem more interested in the convenience and quality of their food than its character.

"It's pretty good. The service is a little slow, but the quality is very high," said José Urizar, a third-year in the College. "It's better than the one on 53rd [Street]."