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New Coffee House 'Perks' Up Ellicott Food Court

The Spectrum

Usually, it would be strange to see the bottom halves of two or three people extending down from the ceiling of the Ellicott Complex.

However, taking a few steps towards them reveals that their top halves are in the process of putting the finishing touches on the lighting and speakers of Perk's Coffee House, the latest addition to the Ellicott Food Court -- and still a bit of a work in progress.

Perk's began with a study conducted in early 1998 by an affiliate of Marriott International, Inc., just after the arrival of the Faculty Student Association Executive Director Mitch Green.

"The idea for Perk's came about as part of the research we did several years ago when we were developing the Ellicott Food Court," said Green. "We spent many hours meeting with students, faculty and staff about the different types of food concepts they would like to see in Ellicott."

FSA is confident the new coffee house will have just as much support now that it has opened. With record numbers of freshmen being admitted to UB, Green said, FSA had to be certain it wouldn't be stretched too thin while operating Perk's, on top of the five other stations it also runs in the new Ellicott Food Court.

This is where Signature Caf?(c), an independently operated coffee shop with two locations at UB, comes into the picture. According to Green, UB had a successful partnership with Signature Caf?(c) in developing Perk's.

"It made sense to bring (Signature Caf?(c)) in to help us," he said. "They had more experience in running coffee caf?(c)s and serving specialty drinks then we do."

At the mention of caf?(c)s, specialty drinks, and, of course, coffee, one question seems on everyone's mind: Does Perk's intend to compete with Starbucks?

"No. Absolutely not," said Lindsay Strong, Perk's manager. "Ours is a completely different purpose. We're trying to give students living on campus a nice place to hang out, somewhere with a nice atmosphere."

Perk's atmosphere is the main reason why Carlye Rubin, a sophomore undecided major, goes there frequently with her friends for yogurt.

"At first I was shocked because this wasn't anything last year," she said, gesturing towards Perk's seating area. "But it's so nice now and so comfortable."

Derrick Fenney, a freshmen theater major, often goes to Perk's but still prefers Starbucks.

"This place is very convenient, but Starbucks is still the king," he said. "This place is kind of the prince, I guess."

According to Green, FSA is also considering holding live entertainment at Perk's in the evening.

"We hope to work with the residence life staff on developing some evening programming," he said.

Another distinction is what you won't see. No students talk on cell phones at Perk's, because the Ellicott Complex's steel and brick construction rules out the possibility of cellular reception.

This 'anti-perk' may be one reason business at the new coffee shop has yet to take off. According to Green, only a week and a half into the new semester, the word about Perk's is still getting out. However, Green remains confident that business will grow.

"We have seen a slow but steady increase in daily business over the first week of school," he said. "We hope that once students settle into regular living patterns business will increase."

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