(U-WIRE) COLLEGE PARK, Md.
Brian Gill doesn’t have his own kitchen. He doesn’t have an office either.
Somehow, Gill, a 22-year-old University of Maryland graduate, and several of his colleagues have found a way to make about $175,000 this semester, cooking kitchen-to-kitchen in U. Maryland’s Greek system.
As president of Gill Grilling Co., Gill has watched the business expand since the company’s founding in August 2002. Revenues have grown each semester — from about $6,000 in fall 2002 to $33,000 in spring 2003 to an estimated $175,000 this semester — and though costs have also increased, the company has grown from Gill cooking by himself for 10 fraternity members to a staff of 14.
“We want to not only make good food, but also to improve the quality of life in the community to which we belong,” Gill said.
He said the company has to use the kitchens in fraternity and sorority houses rather than a central location to prepare food. The company signed a lease for a new office — a former medical facility in Lanham, Md. — in late July and hopes to move in within a month. Gill remains upbeat about the situation.
“I tell my workers to try the best they can. If they have the ingredients there and can make it, try for it,” he said.
Gill Grilling started in the house of Lambda Chi Alpha — Gill’s former fraternity — but now its workers also cook in the kitchens of Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Zeta Psi fraternity houses and Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house full time, as well as in Alpha Omicron Pi sorority house for Sunday dinners. The company has also catered for radio station WHFS’s morning show, Junkies in the Morning.
The business is more than just a catering service, Gill said. He said he knows from experience how stressful Greek life can be, and Gill Grilling is his chance to return something to the community.
“We have an immense amount of pride in the company,” said Kirk Bouffard, vice president of operations. “We picked this thing up off the ground and got it where it is. It feels great to see something succeed you put your heart into.”
Other businesses catering to Greeks have welcomed the increased competition.
“It’s a free market. It’s just like a new restaurant opening up,” Alario’s owner Alan Wanuck said. “It’s just business. It’s better for everybody.”
Gill Grilling’s menu includes a variety of options ranging from pasta to chicken at lunch and never repeats meals for dinner. Gill and Wanuck said each business caters to the wants and needs of each fraternity or sorority, but Wanuck added that Alario’s, which has catered to the Greek system for about six years, also caters to non-Greeks.
A lot of Greeks see the company as an alternative to poor food choices in the city and on the campus, Executive Vice President Shiri Marchand said. Because the company is so young, it has had to gain the trust of clients, Gill said.
“The main thing is quality, and we want to be out there and let people know that we’re not a joke,” Marchand said.
Junior finance and accounting major Mark Rabinowitz, vice president of finance for Sigma Phi Epsilon, selected Gill Grilling to cater for the fraternity after a friend in Lambda Chi Alpha recommended the company.
Many of the fraternity members enjoyed the variety and healthy choices Gill’s company provides with its sandwich and salad bars, Rabinowitz said. He said while he realizes the company is a work-in-progress, Gill Grilling has “definitely met expectations” and he would recommend the company to others.
Sophomore government and politics major and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity member John O’Brien emphasized his satisfaction with Gill Grilling’s customer service.
“While it may be small in stature, [Gill Grilling] is head-and-shoulders above other grilling companies because of their attention to customer service,” O’Brien said.
Though he welcomes more business–the goal is to add two to three houses per semester–Gill said he is cautious about it.
“People often comment on our model and ask if we will expand to other schools,” Gill said. “Our response to that is that we aren’t that greedy; this is our community, and if we can make a good living and give back, then we will be here for a long time.”
“We don’t want to grow too fast, as we would rather give no service than bad service,” he said.
But there is a hope for expansion, Marchand said. “We have had in the past few weeks a few meetings with other houses,” she said.
The company could one day expand to other universities that have similar Greek systems, Bouffard said, but the company remains focused on gaining the business of fraternities and sororities in College Park.
Gill, Marchard and Bouffard all worked at Cornerstone Grill and Loft before working for Gill Grilling, and all three said there remains a possibility that they will return to the restaurant industry in the future, hinting at opening a restaurant.
“It’s really a 50-50 possibility right now,” Gill said. “We’re talking maybe 15 years down the road.