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Dining dollars expand to downtown Grinnell businesses

Nick El Hajj
Photo illustration: Grinnell College students can now use their Pioneer One-Card in select businesses downtown.

Students can now use their dining dollars at McNally’s Foods, Jay’s Deli and Saints Rest. The expansion program, a student-led initiative, has so far generated more visibility and patronage for each respective local business. The College will evaluate whether to expand the program at the end of the academic year. 

When Caroline Cassidy `25 worked for the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce during her first year at Grinnell, she strove to create community-building opportunities for students. 

“Being a student voice at the Chamber meant spending a lot of time thinking about how to realize improved student involvement. To me, that meant creating more spaces for students to be in town without spending additional money,” Cassidy said. 

Cassidy pitched her idea in the SPARK Challenge, a community social innovation challenge run by the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership aimed at addressing issues related to poverty in Grinnell. To Cassidy, the opportunity “felt like the perfect tool to affirm student interest and bring that interest to the College’s attention.”

Familiar with expanded dining dollar programs at other schools, Cassidy said, “I believed that a similar program in Grinnell could remove a barrier to students engaging with the broader community and give a more tangible reason to leave the campus.”

Before entering the SPARK Challenge, Cassidy sought information and support from Rachel Bly `93, assistant vice president for auxiliary services and Grinnell City Council representative. Together, they researched other university programs for comparison.

Cassidy sought student feedback by gathering 200 survey responses about which businesses they would like to see in a possible program. In an email to the S&B, Bly wrote, “We did not get all the community partners we were hoping to choose to join our pilot so this was an early challenge, but we [were] still able to find a great array of folks.” 

Nevertheless, Cassidy said, “With this evidence, and the support of the Chamber and the College, I was lucky enough to secure some funding for the implementation of the project.” 

“The money that Caroline received for winning the SPARK Challenge was used to purchase processing units and pay initial start-up costs for participating merchants in this pilot program,” wrote Jeanette Moser, director of dining services, in an email to the S&B. 

All three local businesses implemented Pioneer One-Card-acceptable (P-Card) payment machines at the end of October, and each owner has already seen monetary and community benefits. While the College makes no money from any transaction at McNally’s, Jay’s Deli or Saints Rest, each transaction requires a $0.15 fee, and the company that operates the processing units receives 3.4% of each purchase. The rest, however, goes directly to the store. 

Julie Smith, owner of McNally’s Foods grocery store, said, “I immediately thought it was a great idea” when Dining Services presented her with the opportunity. She said that a couple of her children attended the University of Iowa, where they have a similar program, so she knew it could be successful for her business and enjoyable for students. 

Sam Cox, owner of Saints Rest coffee shop, shared similar sentiments as Smith. “There was no question, really,” she said. “I don’t know why anyone would turn that down.”

Since beginning the program, Smith said she has seen a gradual increase in customers, estimating 15 to 20 new patrons each day. 

I’m always excited to see new people and have new opportunities for people to come in.

— Jay Diehm, owner of Jay's Deli

Similarly, Jay Diehm, owner of Jay’s Deli, said he has been eager to meet new students since offering this alternative payment method. “I’m always excited to see new people and have new opportunities for people to come in,” said Diehm. “Any way to diversify forms of payment is always great.”

Diehm and Smith said that so far, the only difficulty with implementation occurred Friday, Nov. 3 when a system-wide shutdown prevented the use of P-Card scanners for an afternoon. “We couldn’t get ahold of the College, but we really didn’t know who to talk to, so it was a big mystery for a minute,” said Diehm. 

Cox said that in order to record the dining dollar payments in Saints Rest’s internal system, she had to get creative. She contacted Square, the company for her usual payment system, to add extra functions in order to track P-Card purchases. 

I’ve benefited greatly from Grinnell College students. I’m super fortunate to have the environment that I have and the relationship that I have with them. I’m grateful continually. I hope it’s something that gets bigger and better.

— Sam Cox, Owner of Saints Rest

“For any employee or anyone that’s new, it’s five more steps to learn,” Cox said. “It’s a more complicated process than I think I would like, but I see the value.”

Overall, though, Cox said she hopes the program will continue to grow her business. 

“I’ve benefited greatly from Grinnell College students,” she said. “I’m super fortunate to have the environment that I have and the relationship that I have with them. I’m grateful continually. I hope it’s something that gets bigger and better.”

Moser wrote that in addition to the benefits of supporting local businesses, the expansion program “increases student satisfaction with dining options.”

According to Moser, Dining Services is still evaluating whether to expand the program to more businesses in the future and will decide towards the end of the academic year once they collect pilot program data. 

“Any comments regarding this pilot project can be shared on a comment card in one of our Dining operations,” wrote Moser. Additionally, students can submit comments anonymously through the Dining Services GrinnellShare feedback link. 


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About the Contributors
Allison Moore
Allison Moore, Staff Writer
Allison is a fourth-year gender, women's, and sexuality studies major from Granville, Ohio. In her spare time, she can be found crafting, cooking, and cuddling with her kitten, Koda. If you think her mini crossword is too hard, then too bad.
Nick El Hajj
Nick El Hajj, Editor in Chief
Nick El Hajj, hailing from Beirut, Lebanon, is a fourth-year political science and economics major. In his free time, Nick enjoys delving into a good book, embarking on scenic drives and indulging in random documentaries. You’ll frequently find Nick waking up way too early to enjoy a peaceful morning of fishing at Arbor Lake.
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    Ginette McFarlandNov 15, 2023 at 8:27 pm

    Dari Barn will reopen in spring 2024 and we are already set up to take the cards! ?