University News

MunchCard to change under new management

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Chicago-based company recently bought MunchCard and will restart the service after tackling technological and legal challenges.

MunchCard, a student-owned Thayer Street restaurant discount program, went inactive when it was bought by a Chicago-based company earlier this semester. With the acquisition now complete, the new ownership plans to enact a series of changes to the MunchCard system before reactivating it.

“There’s no real timeline,” said Steven Tran ’13, a former member of the MunchCard ownership team. Tran said he could not foresee when the card would come back online.

The acquiring company is in the midst of a period of transitions “including new people coming onto their leadership team,” said Ben Vishny ’14, MunchCard’s co-founder. The acquisition marks the new company’s attempt to enter into the “closed-loop issuance” market, Vishny said. Under a closed-loop system, the card will be accepted only at a limited number of vendors, and the company does not want to reveal their plans to competitors prematurely, he added.

The former MunchCard owners have been in contact with the acquiring company several times per week by phone and through meetings at the company’s base in Chicago. Though Vishny and Tran no longer have official roles in the company, they have maintained consulting positions during the transition period.

Thayer Street restaurants accepting MunchCard in the past required a separate swipe terminal to work, but this will be phased out when MunchCard goes live under new leadership, Vishny said. The acquiring company is attempting to replicate the program’s local focus while reconciling restaurant merchants’ existing hardware.

Vishny and Tran outlined three areas of difficulty that the company must address before MunchCard goes live.

First, it must integrate technological systems – restaurant merchants use “over 600 different types of just touch-screen ordering machines,” Vishny said. Expansion would have been impossible for MunchCard under student ownership because they did not have the systems capacity to carry out this integration, Tran added.

Second, there are a host of legal implications that arise from applying the card in different states, which the next company will attempt to do at multiple universities. For example, some states honor expiration dates, while others do not, Vishny said. 

“There’s a little more of a complex environment involved,” Vishny said.

Finally, developing a student network poses a challenge to the company.

“We function as a very personable company,” Tran said. “We’re in the Brown community, we support the Brown community.” 

The acquiring company wants to maintain the personal level of service and “student-powered” fundamentals that initially attracted card-holders, Vishny said. The company does not have access to identification information from students who originally signed up last year, he added. Those accounts have been closed and students will have to sign up again when MunchCard is again available.

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