Revamped Ursa’s features new menu, entertainment
Instead of the familiar offerings of gelato, milkshakes and quesadillas, Ursa’s will offer three new dining concepts: Serendipity Homemade Ice Cream, Mediterranean cuisine and Sweet Bubble, which consists of bubble tea and dessert crepes. With its hours expanded from 6:00 p.m. to midnight from Wednesday through Sunday, Dining Services Manager Paul Schimmele is hopeful that students will find Ursa’s a more attractive dining location than in previous years.
“Up to now, students have not looked at Ursa’s as a place to eat,” Schimmele said. “People have looked at Ursa’s as a place for an occasional movie, and then food is an afterthought. We wanted to make a focused menu, and our executive chef came up with the idea of having Mediterranean [cuisine]. I think this will be one of the strong selling points that will attract students.”
Last spring, Dining Services organized several focus groups to survey the changes that students were looking for in Ursa’s. While nearly all food ideas varied, many students expressed a strong desire to have dessert crepes and bubble tea on the menu, which led to the development of Sweet Bubble.
“We’re not just putting things in Ursa’s just for the sake of it,” April Powell, director of marketing & communications, said. “We want the space to reflect what students want. It’s an interactive space, and if something is popular, it stays. We want students to continuously submit their ideas, and we’ll be ready to act.”
In addition to new food options, Residential Life Assistant Director Valronica Scales is looking to increase the number of student events held at Ursa’s. While Thursday movie nights and Friday events designed by residential assistants will remain, the Congress of the South 40’s Ursa’s Chair will be responsible for putting on activities that would interest students.
“I think movie nights are good, but that’s definitely not enough,” Scales said. “It’s our job to attract students with more programming, and this was clear from the focus groups.”
Serious considerations for changing Ursa’s started about two years ago when Ursa’s had significant drops in student visits and thus was operating at a huge loss. While the vision for Ursa’s 15 years ago was to provide a popular alternative location for students looking to get together without having to partake in parties, Schimmele and Powell believe that Ursa’s took a huge hit with the construction of a new Bear’s Den and residential halls, which offer new social locations for students.
“Ursa’s is 100 percent patronized by the undergraduate students, and we saw our vision of Ursa’s as a popular alternative social space decline,” Schimmele said. “South 40 certainly has changed a lot since the place started, and the question became: is there enough of a need for Ursa’s? It was time for Ursa’s to change and attract students.”
While new food options and an increase in student events are the top priorities for now, students from the focus groups also expressed their interest in seeing renovations to the seating arrangement and activity space that could possibly include new multimedia equipment and windows that open up to a patio. Actual construction plans are still being determined as Provost Holden Thorp, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration Henry Webber and other members on the board of administrators decide whether such an investment is necessary, considering the other issues that are at hand.
“Right now, the University is trying to figure out the seating issue in the [Danforth University Center] and a plan to re-construct Rubelmann House. It’s not that we don’t have any priorities,” Schimmele said. “It’s a matter of how everything will affect each other. It’ll take some time, but we like the changes we’ve made so far.”