A campus restaurant is trying to find its identity among corporate eateries, all in an attempt to “promote a healthier alternative with trendy and tasty” foods.
That is the acronym behind the name of Phatt Wraps, located at 10 E. 12th Ave., across the street from United Dairy Farmers.
Jose Becerra — the owner of Phatt Wraps — was previously hired by Abercrombie & Fitch to assist in the design of the Wexner Café at the brand’s corporate headquarters in New Albany. He used the skills he learned from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and more than 20 years of culinary experience to open up two more eateries for Abercrombie & Fitch’s employees, each having a healthy concept, he said. Becerra walked away from the partnership after six years and decided to open his own restaurant using the same concepts.
He said he chose a location on campus because there were not a lot of healthy options there.
At Phatt Wraps, customers can build their own wraps and have the option of choosing their own meat — chicken, steak or vegan soy — and cheese on a warm pita. There is a small buffet of fresh, sometimes organic, vegetables to choose from, varying on what is in season. There is also an array of sauces to choose from and a drink selection, Becerra said.
From the beginning, Becerra has been opposed to offering beverages with high fructose corn syrup. Instead, Phatt Wraps offers Coke products that were bottled in Mexico because they are made with cane sugar, he said.
The restaurant receives one delivery per week of fresh meat and vegetables, and Becerra said he tries to use local produce when possible.
After time Phatt Wraps opened in 2010, Becerra said sales increased by 30 percent for the first two years. But a big change Ohio State implemented threw a curveball at his business.
“When the university went from quarters to semesters, that hurt us a lot,” Becerra said.
He said there is now a longer break between Spring and Fall semesters, which decreased the number of students — and business — on campus in the summer months.
Becerra said not having enough money to advertise like larger companies has also hindered business during the school year.
“I’ve always had to pass out flyers and depend on word of mouth,” Becerra said.
Becerra had the idea to rebrand the restaurant into Phatt Taco and introduce a new item on the menu: the walking taco — a concept Becerra said was popular in the late 1980s. People would take a bag of chips, usually Fritos, and fill it with ground beef, cheese, sour cream and salsa.
“Some students still do it, but that whole idea kind of fizzled out,” Becerra said. “I took that idea and kind of redeveloped it.”
Phatt Wraps’ — or when it was developed in August, Phatt Taco’s — walking taco is offered in a red Chinese take out box. The Fritos were replaced with yellow rice and black beans.
In addition to the menu, Becerra began to make changes in August to both the interior and exterior of Phatt Taco when he realized he made a mistake.
“Too many people were coming in here at the beginning of the school year, going ‘Where’s Phatt Wraps?’” Becerra said.
Becerra was trying to duplicate the concept of another restaurant with the same name that he opened almost seven months ago in downtown Columbus at 50 N. High St.
After getting halfway through the rebranding process, Becerra said he realized that he couldn’t make the campus location a Phatt Taco for operational reasons.
“I couldn’t execute it the same way because of equipment restrictions and because this location is so tiny,” Becerra said.
Becerra said he is currently in the process of rebrandingthe restaurant as Phatt Wraps, again. But no need to fear — the walking taco will still be on the menu.
Corrin Mansfield — a 2013 OSU graduate — has been working at Phatt Wraps a little over a month. Mansfield said when she attended OSU, she was a regular customer at Phatt Wraps.
“Our walking taco is really good,” Mansfield said. “I think he’s (Becerra) doing a really good job trying to balance keeping the wraps aspect but still introducing and merging the two concepts.”
Courtney Schmidt, a fourth-year in nutrition, said she likes Phatt Wraps and frequents it.
“I like that it’s organic. It always tastes fresh,” Schmidt said.
Though only a few changes have been made to the restaurant, the rebranding will cost the business almost $7,000, Becerra said. This includes the new menu and advertisements.
Becerra acknowledges the confusion at the restaurant right now, but assures that the changes will be completed soon.
“People are a little confused as to what it is,” he said, adding that it would soon ‘clearly’ be back as Phatt Wraps.
However, there are still some other menu additions coming to Phatt Wraps, including a meatball and marinara wrap and tomato soup.
Phatt Wraps is also partnering with OrderUp, a web-based service and app that delivers food to customers for businesses that don’t deliver themselves. OrderUp entered the Columbus market in June.
“I think there’s a demand for students that want to have quality food like this delivered to them,” said Nick Miesen, the owner of OrderUp Columbus. “They’re a smaller, independent shop off of High Street, maybe not as visible. I think the partnership we’re going to be able to have with them will help them get some of that visibility and exposure.”
Becerra said he is humbled by the support he has received from his regular customers over the years and anticipates welcoming new customers.
“Our customer base is stronger that I expected,” Becerra said. “I’m excited about getting it back to Phatt Wraps, getting that name back out there and introducing the walking taco.”