koi owner Sandy Chen said she remembers needing budget-friendly meals when she studied at the University of Illinois Chicago. So when her boss suggested implementing a low-cost menu for Northwestern students, she agreed.
“Chef is more focused on the … price to be more affordable for students,” she said. “He put some of the very popular dishes (on the menu) that students really like … so I was so proud to see him sell these items and this many.”
Koi is a Chinese restaurant located at the heart of downtown Evanston that has been in business since 2004, Chen said. The dinner menu’s entrées range from $14 to $42 per dish, which discouraged students like McCormick junior Erin Bryan from trying the restaurant.However, the menu now also serves entries at $9.99 Across the board for dishes like Sesame Chicken and Chicken Pad Thai Noodles. It also includes $4.99 starters and $2.99 soups and salads. Bryan visited Koi after hearing about the menu in the class of 2024 group chat, she said, and felt an entrée off the student menu was plenty filling.
“My friend had the Chicken Pad Thai, and I tried it,” she said. “It was awesome, so that’s going to be my next order.”
Koi Operations Manager Kyle Lucki oversees the floor during service hours and said he has noticed an influx of students since they introduced the menu mid-September.
Lucki said the dishes are light and easy to make and suitable for large groups.
“The standard Chinese and Japanese dishes are usually traditional, family style,” he said. “So this works very well … when you’re sitting with four or five people and you can order four or five of these plates to share.”
Like many people on campus, Bryan said she tries to reduce her spending on restaurant food, investing instead in at-home meals. For her, home-cooked meals are small and typically consumed with friends, which she said Koi’s menu caters to perfectly.
Lucki said the student menu has absolutely set the restaurant ahead of competition.
“It was a good opportunity to jump on top of that new crowd (of incoming students) becoming somewhere that’s more dominant to the other restaurants as far as median price points they can afford,” he said.
While the new student-friendly menu is intended for those attending NU, Chen said students from other area schools have come to Evanston to order off of it as well.
Bryan said she thinks other businesses in the area should follow Koi’s lead.
“It would be really beneficial for both Evanston restaurants and the student body if these kinds of student menus and more student discounts are offered by more of the restaurants in the area,” she said. “There’s a lot of places around here where I’ve seen the menu and … I’d like to try something from it, but the cost is just too high for a student.”
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