Millersville University has announced the closure of Saxbys, the university’s student-run cafe. A new cafe has opened in collaboration with the Lombardo College of Business.
The university announced its decision to close Saxbys in June. According to Millersville administration, discussions began in 2020 about what the university could do with the estimated $800,000 per year that was being spent in partnership with Saxbys. Simultaneously, the University was determining whether it would be outsourcing Dining Services to an external contracting company. Saxby’s was included in Millersville’s request for proposal (RFP) process that was engaged in regarding what would happen with Dining Services.
Associate Vice President of Finance Administration, Eric Sheppard, was the person appointed by the university as the liaison for the RFP process which led to the decision to keep Dining Services in house, making Millersville University the only insource dining operation in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. According to Sheppard, the university reached out to Saxbys in October 2020 when Millersville’s RFP process began in attempt to negotiate a solution that would serve both the university and Saxbys.
“Saxbys, in our negotiations, refused to honor any kind of decision that would not include meal plan swipes, we offer them access to flex, cash, credit, when they said that wouldn’t be enough volume,” Sheppard says. “We even offered Saxbys the opportunity to open other spaces on campus so that it would be able to maintain the volume of revenues that they’ve been accustomed to.”
“Negotiations did not come to a very good conclusion,” says Sheppard. “At the end of that period, the offer came from the business school that they could produce a new academic program and help us design our own student run cafe.”
When negotiations with Saxby’s reached an impasse, Millersville administration began a discussion with Dr. Tomljanovich, Dean of the Lombardo College of Business, about ways to creatively move forward.
“Instead of having one student CEO per semester, meaning two people per year, with us paying $800,000 for that service, the promise we have going forward is that we can train more than one student per semester,” Sheppard says.
When the news of Saxby’s closure reached Millersville students, the announcement was met with a strong reaction from both students and alumni who were either currently or formerly involved with the Saxbys organization.
On June 29, Millersville’s Student Government Association held a town hall meeting with university leadership. During the meeting, alumni and students spoke about the impact Saxbys had on their lives in both personal and professional capacities.
Former student CEO of Saxbys and current senior at Millersville Mackenzie Freeman says that the time she spent working at the coffee shop had a big impact on her professionally and personally.
“It was during this incredible experience that I learned first hand how to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom in real time under the pressures and stressors of a live business,” Freeman says. “Saxbys leaving Millersville’s campus is eliminating [the] amazing community that acted as a safe place for many of the students that attend this university. No matter what establishment is planned to replace this amazing cafe, the community that Saxbys created here on campus could never be replaced.”
Anna Stefanowicz started working as a host at Saxbys before being offered the position of student CEO for the 2021-2022 academic year. Stefanowicz will be assisting the university in starting up a brand new student-run cafe in the space where Saxbys was formerly located.
“After talking with a lot of the Millersville [administration], my concerns were definitely lifted a little bit,” Stefanowicz said during the townhall. “They are striving to have a new position that is similar to the one I was going to get before. It’s a place that I can still have an opportunity and help start up a new cafe in the place of where Saxby’s was.”
Despite the new coffee shop, Stefanowicz says she will still miss the atmosphere, friendships, and opportunities that Saxbys offered.
Courtney Miller, Millersville alum and former student CEO of Saxbys, says that she first witnessed the robust community being facilitated through Saxbys when she toured Millersville’s campus as a prospective student. After observing the community aspect of Saxbys, Miller hoped to join the team and eventually work as student CEO of the cafe.
“The hard work of myself and my peers, the thing that we all worked so hard to build and flourish is just completely gone now,” Miller says. “I felt, and still do, very deeply and personally connected with the Saxbys Millersville cafe and team … Nothing has ever better prepared me or shaped me than the experience I was given thanks to Saxbys.”
Millersville’s administration assured students that the closure of Saxbys was not an overnight decision but was something that had been carefully deliberated and discussed.
“I want to begin by apologizing for students being both surprised and not informed about this joint business and academic program decision that the university has made over the past several months,” Guilbert Brown, Vice President for Finance and Administration, says.
Dr. Mark Tomljanovich, Dean of the Lombardo School of Business, who spoke during the town hall, said that he loved the partnership between the university and Saxbys and respected the organization.
“Everything that we have here in terms of our plans are taking nothing away from that,” Tomljanovich said. “We just feel that at this point, we want to take this to the next level. We think there’s the chance to build an even deeper community than we already have, and to provide these experiences to more students.”
Students expressed desire for increased communication between Millersville’s leadership team and its students.
“Students need to be involved. We are the consumers here, and we are paying the bills. It’s only fair that we get some kind of input,” Leizel Schlott, President of Millersville’s Student Government Association, says.