Crimson Cafe reopens its doors

William Evans

The Crimson Cafe on the Strip will reopen within one week with some changes made to its appearance and service.

Rhett Madden, co-owner and founder of the cafe, said he closed the restaurant this past June after eighteen years of business because the cafe had lost its privileges to accept Dining Dollars.

Dining Dollars is managed by Aramark, a private company the University hired in 1996 to handle its dining services.

Full-time undergraduates are required to pay $300 each semester towards Dining Dollars that can be used at on-campus dining facilities or at approved off-campus restaurants, which have to pay a 21 percent fee every time Dining Dollars are accepted, according to the Tuscaloosa News.

Although the fee set by Aramark cut his profits, Madden said he saw Dining Dollars as a necessity to draw in students, his main customer base.

Now without Dining Dollars, Madden said he will refocus his business model to appeal to the larger Tuscaloosa community by placing an emphasis on the nights and weekends with more live music inside the cafe.

“Our focus before was 100 percent on the students but now we want to shift some of our focus to the local community,” Madden said.

However, students will still be a key focus for the cafe, he said.

Madden said the restaurants that are succeeding on the Strip have integrated a pub-like atmosphere into their business models for the night crowd, which he will do for the cafe.

“Our concept was more of a day-time setting where people could sit down and study and drink coffee, but that market is being serviced on campus,” he said. “We want to be a place where you can bring your group of friends and have a pleasant night atmosphere where you can enjoy good food and drinks and have some live music.”

The cafe will feature a remodeled interior with new flooring, counter-tops and a redesigned kitchen area to facilitate the cooking process.

“The way we rearranged things will make our service twice as fast,” he said.

Madden has also hired Rebecca Skelton, a chef with a specialty for homemade desserts, to oversee the making of the food.

Fresh-baked desserts, including homemade cakes and cookies, will be a regular item for customers to enjoy, Skelton said.

The menu will remain as it was before the cafe’s closing until Skelton notices any meals that aren’t selling, which will be replaced, she said.

Madden said he wants to stay optimistic.

“The main thing I don’t want anybody to think is that we dropped Dining Dollars, but since we’ve been dropped and there’s no commission involved, we’ll be offering the lowest prices we can and pass it on to the students,” he said. “I think the students are going to be pleasantly surprised.

“We firmly believe we have found a path to keep the Crimson Cafe here another 20 years.”

Stephen Killen, a junior studying in New College, said he sees the Crimson Cafe as a valuable asset to the Strip.

“The atmosphere was worth going to,” he said. “I wasn’t a big fan of the food but for the old tavern-like interior – I would go back to that in a heartbeat.”