These quick-serve restaurants are located in ideal demographic markets on college campuses, which means they’re bringing in big revenue—sometimes well after midnight. But late-night pizza is just the beginning.
From subs to ice cream sandwiches to barbecue, it’s clear what the students crave: quality, accessible, and customizable food in a fun atmosphere. Here are some of the most successful quick-serve restaurants on college campuses across the country.
Ohio State University
When Buckeyes are craving fried confections—be it in the morning, before a game, or after a night out at the bars—they know where to turn. This 24/7 shop is even open on Christmas Day, and it’s been that way since 1969. There are 31 varieties of donuts, but the namesake Buckeye Donut is the obvious favorite. Like the dessert with the same name, this donut features peanut butter and chocolate with a cream center. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, you won’t walk away empty-handed: this donut shop also serves up gyros and fries at student-friendly prices.
See those CTB stickers on laptops or water bottles at Cornell? This is what it stands for. Since 1976, students in Ithaca, New York, have been indulging in bagels and bialys at Collegetown Bagels. The affordable student hangout bakes its bagels fresh daily and features sandwiches that fit perfectly into the college kid budget. While bagels bookend most of the ingredients, you can find wraps, paninis, and traditional sandwiches as well. But let’s face it: students come for the bagels. Favorites include the Round House breakfast sandwich, served on a rosemary salted bagel with hash browns.
Diddy Riese Cookies
The line is always snaking out the door at Diddy Riese Cookies in Westwood, just off the UCLA campus. Indulging in one of their ice cream sandwiches has been a right of passage for both Bruins and Angelenos since 1983. With 10 traditional flavors of freshly baked cookies and 12 flavors of Dreyer’s ice cream, there’s a combination that will satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. And at $2 each, it’s hard to try just one. The cash-only joint serves up cookie sundaes, brownies, and Hawaiian shaved ice at low-prices, too.
Half Fast Subs
University of Colorado
Half Fast Subs is a favorite of CU students and Boulder residents alike. Be warned: the menu is long … like really long. Choose from over 100 different hot and cold sub sandwiches from seafood to vegetarian to stuffed to assorted cheesesteaks. Standouts include the Ba-Donk-a-Donk, a combination of roast beef, Chicago hot peppers, cheddar cheese, and bacon, and The Gobbler with turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Once you commit to a sandwich, wash it down with a pitcher of Peach Panther or a N’Awlin’s Hurricane.
Ian’s Pizza by the Slice
University of Wisconsin
Ask any Badger where they’re headed after a night of State Street bar-hopping and you’ll get the same answer: Ian’s. The Madison, Wisconsin-based nontraditional pizza joint has been dishing up its famed macaroni-and-cheese topped slice to hungry college kids since 2001. If mac-and-cheese isn’t your thing, try Spicy Chicken Taco, BBQ Brisket and Tots, or Sausage Penne Alfredo. The local chain has been so successful that you can now grab a slice in Milwaukee, Seattle, and Denver.
Merritt’s Store & Grill
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
Undergrads in Chapel Hill know where to get a good B.L.T: Merritt’s. Do you want a single, a double, or a triple? How about avocado or pimento cheese? Merritt’s takes the B.L.T. to the next level. This 1920s-era gas-station-turned-sandwich-shop is not the cheapest, but it is charming, and students make the pilgrimage to check the box off this UNC bucket list experience. Don’t forget to wash down your sandwich with a glass bottle of Cheerwine, of course.
When Duke students are craving barbecue, they come to Q Shake for melt-in-your mouth beef brisket and extra-large portions. All the meat at this Durham, North Carolina, joint is smoked in-house and comes with two sides, such as jack cheese creamed spinach and fried okra, as well as a serving of hush puppies. It’s hard to walk away hungry, and much of the menu is under $10. A perfect storm for the hungry student.
University of Missouri
Shakespeare’s keeps it simple: a small menu, affordable prices, and dang good pizza. That’s why Mizzou students keep coming back for more. It probably helps that they get more with each order. Their large pizza is 16 inches, which is two inches more than traditional larges or a third bigger. “Shake’s” has been named one of the best college eats in the nation, so it’s not surprise that they’ve started shipping frozen pies to alumni across the country.
University of Miami
Since the 1970s, ‘The Rat” has been a campus institution serving reasonably-priced classic fare, like burgers and wings, to Miami students. But recent undergrads are lucky enough to enjoy the new location in the upgraded Student Activities Center. It’s situated on prime lakefront property on the Coral Gables campus. There are TVs and beer inside and views of Lake Osceola outside. A large menu and daily specials power students through the semester.
University of Michigan
What started as a small, simple Jewish deli in 1983 has turned into an Ann Arbor staple—and so much more. In addition to its iconic sandwiches, you’ll find gourmet specialty items, candies, breads, cheeses, pastries, and more. The grocery-slash-deli has its own mail order business so alumni can ship their favorite Reuben accouterment across the country. The now-booming business has overflowed from its original location and into the renovated house next door. But the lines are still as legendary as their sandwiches.