Family business Coco Bob’s is shutting down
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 19:05
“It was a very hard decision. We really appreciate, and have come to love, the students and faculty here,” said Sharon Feller, owner of our beloved Coco Bob’s, regarding its impending closure. She grew emotional as she talked about their reasons for opening five years ago, and their reasons for closing now.
Almost ten years ago, Sharon’s husband, Bob Feller, was laid off from his job of 34 years. One day he happened upon a film about people who were selling cookies and coffee on a college campus. When he mentioned it to his son, who was student president here at the time, that this was a cool idea, his son told him that UWT was looking to establish something like that on campus.
After five years of paperwork and meetings, Coco Bob’s was born. Bob’s grandchildren had inexplicably begun calling him Coco Bob, and since it was catchy and fun, they decided to go with it.
Due to the presence of Starbucks and other coffee shops around campus, Sharon and Bob decided to sell soup, salads, and sandwiches as well. When they first opened, the line was out the door; people would drop in during five minute class breaks to pick up one of their delicious sandwiches. However, as the campus began to expand farther north, the walk to Coco Bob’s from a classroom in Joy or BB became too long for a five minute break. Fewer people patronized Coco Bob’s, and it began to lose revenue.
About a year and a half ago, Bob left to get a more lucrative job that would make ends meet, but just after that he was diagnosed with cancer. Having to hire more employees as business was declining did not make for a financially sustainable business. The required closures when most students weren’t on campus, really hurt Coco Bob’s bottom line as well.
With so many financial, and physical difficulties, and since their lease will be up in December, Sharon and Bob decided to close now, and give the school time to regroup and find someone else to fill the space.
“We really appreciate those who have supported us,” said Sharon, of her customers, “They have really made a difference in our lives, and we hope we have made a difference in theirs.”
They most definitely have made a difference, and campus will be sorry to see them go, but according to Jan Rutledge, Associate Vice Chancellor of Finance, a replacement will hopefully be decided upon by autumn.
“We’re growing, we’re changing, I guess you could say this is just another part of that,” said Ben Mauk, Business Services Manager, as he spoke about the options being looked into.
The space could be filled by either a campus-run or private vendor. If campus-run, the business will be self sustaining in that it will pay for itself; none of its funds will come out of student funds. If a private vendor is chosen, it is imperative that they also be sustainable, so that this process does not need to be repeated.
In order to determine the price point and type of service, the Office of Finance will be working closely with ASUWT in connecting with students. Cedric Howard, Vice Chancellor for Student affairs has already met with ASUWT to begin this process, which will include student surveys.
A previous survey, taken in partnership with the city, and designed to learn about what students want on campus, came up with a two general findings: one, students like chain restaurants and brand names are very important to them; and two, we want to spend about $5. The question is whether a chain restaurant would be sustainable. The space still needs to be filled by someone who has a small business mentality, as in the MAT, the customer base will be mostly students and faculty.
Of course, as UWT grows so will the volume of potential customers; this, combined with the impending reprogramming of the Mattress Factory (Enrollment Services is moving onto the second floor of the MAT, while Finance will be moving into GWP) means greater traffic through the MAT.
ASUWT will have the majority of the decision-making power in this situation, however if a decision is not financially feasible, it can be vetoed. Howard spoke to how fortunate UWT students are to have such a high level of cooperation between student government and the university. It is important that we take advantage of this.
“If there is something they feel strongly about, talk to student government,” encouraged Rutledge.
The MAT is a student space, and it is important that what ends up there is actually something we want. Be sure to make your voice heard in this decision so that the Mattress Factory can continue to be a place we can all enjoy.