Food and Dining
5:05 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

Restaurants Face Uphill Battle for Cardinal Towne Diners

Cardinal Towne seemed like a good location for Papalinos NY Pizzeria to open a second location.

Bolstered by the success of the restaurant’s Baxter Avenue store, co-owner Shelly Hernandez says she and her husband, co-owner Allan Rosenberg, rented a space in Cardinal Towne, a mixed-use development on Cardinal Boulevard. Sandwiched between the University of Louisville Belknap campus and Old Louisville, the location had the potential to draw patrons from two distinct communities. They opened the Cardinal Towne Papalinos store in August 2011.

Just over a year later, the ovens have gone cold. Hernandez and Rosenberg closed the Cardinal Towne restaurant and are now operating solely out of the original Papalinos location on Baxter Avenue.

“We did not want to do it, not in the least bit,” says Hernandez.

Commuter Campus Life

Papalinos’ short life on Cardinal Boulevard reveals a tricky situation for restaurateurs who have taken up residence in Cardinal Towne. Though a wealth of students and an entire neighborhood surround the row of eateries, Papalinos and others have to compete with mandatory meal plans, slow foot traffic and a community that hasn’t fully embraced Cardinal Towne’s retailers.

“No one thinks of driving down to that part of town unless there’s a game or something with the university,” says Nathan Quillo, owner/operator of Quills Coffee, another Cardinal Towne tenant.

Quillo says that it seemed like a no-brainer to open a coffee shop in Cardinal Towne. But “good locations might not be great locations,” he says. Quillo, who has attended U of L, says the school is still a commuter campus—students drive in for class and go home without spending much time on campus. 

A representative of Cardinal Towne could not be reached for comment. 

On-Campus Competition

Cardinal Towne restaurants also compete with on-campus options. Most students are required to have meal plans that can only be used for dining services the school provides exclusively through Sodexho, says Larry Owsley, vice president for business affairs at U of L. The meal plans are also mandatory for commuter students who meet certain criteria.

U of L adopted the meal plan policy in 2008 as part of a 10-year contract with Sodexho, who provides the dining services. There are three tiers of meal plans that cost $175, $930 or $1,460 per semester. Prices are based on the residence hall in which a student lives and the number of credit hours a student takes at the Belknap campus, according to U of L’s website.

A meal plan makes students turn to on-campus dining first, but the 8,476 students on the $175 meal plan option “would have money to spend at the retail outlets at Cardinal Towne,” Owsley says.

But Hernandez said the meal plans did affect her business. “Students don’t have a lot of extra income,” Hernandez says. “It has an impact.”

Students can use Cardinal Cash, an account separate from meal plans, at on- and off-campus retailers, including Cardinal Towne retailers The Comfy Cow, Qdoba, Jimmy Johns and Home Run Burgers. But Hernandez says Cardinal Cash at Papalinos would only bring in about $15 a day. 

Back to 'Home Base'

Eventually, revenue from the Baxter Avenue Papalinos was supporting the Cardinal Towne location, which could have put both locations in jeopardy, Hernandez says. The owners decided to close the Papalinos Cardinal Towne to preserve the success of its original store.

Hernandez says it is nice to be back in their “home base” and refocused on making the restaurant “the best that it can be.” The Cardinal Towne location still makes Hernandez sad, she says, but there were valuable lessons from the experience.

“We learned how to be a little bit more leery and a little bit more business savvy,” she says.