Local restaurants look to capitalize on basketball season

Owner Jeff Allums said Baja Bean Co. gets so packed on game day that students have camped outside to get a seat.
Photo by Chris Conway.

Matthew Leonard
Contributing Writer

The Siegel Center may play host to thousands of die-hard basketball fans for each home game, but before the clock starts and after the final buzzer sounds, fans give a welcomed influx of business to local restauranteurs.

Basketball fans’ desire to have a place to call their own has  crowds to Baja Bean Co. at 1520 W. Main St.

Brandon Alness, a junior member of the Rowdy Rams, said his decision to make Baja Bean a regular game-day destination was a simple one.

“Baja Bean was the only place that would really pay the necessary money to get the live streams from other school’s athletic websites,” Alness said.

Jeff Allums, the owner of Baja Bean, said the trend of students watching games in his restaurant flourished during the team’s 2011 Final Four run. Once that season was over, the customers kept coming in.

“Basketball season affects us year round,” Allums said. “Now, we see a lot of the Rowdy Rams and a lot of the students a little bit more year round now. Winter for us used to be like summer at a ski cabin, dead. So at least now the business is steady year round.”

Last year, Baja Bean reached capacity (between 170 and 180 people), nearly every basketball game, Allmus said.

This past March, Baja Bean renovated its patio, and it is now ready for winter. The minor renovations feature new walling and outdoors heaters, and increases capacity by 50 seats.

This bump in business in the winter was just what Baja Bean needed to reach record profits. Allums said both 2011 and 2012 ended in record earnings for the restaurant, and he said this year looks set to do the same.

“If you don’t get here an hour before the game, you’re not going to get a seat,” Allums said.

Baja’s dedication to promoting basketball games have driven fans to extreme lengths, even camping in front of the restaurant.

Before the Butler game last season Allums said 40 to 50 VCU fans slept in front of the restaurant to make sure they would get a seat.

“We woke them up by tossing burritos to them,” Allums said. “Free, of course.”

Restaurants closer to the Siegel Center also see an influx of customers during basketball season.

“On a game night we’ll see about double the business,” said Ray Ralph, a server at The Village Café, at 1001 W. Grace St.

Ralph said when crowds start filling in before the game, The Village Café clears out their front entrance for more waiting room and they have more servers on staff.

“Customers will be waiting shoulder to shoulder for a table,” Ralph said.

Other local business hope to experience the same financial success come basketball season.

Unleashed Gourmet Hot Dogs, at 515 N. Harrison St., opened up earlier this year on North Harrison and Broad St. Galina Vaytser, owner of Unleashed, said business has been slow ever since the doors opened.

“I hope basketball season affects our business,” Vaytser said. “But I don’t know if it will.”

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