About 250 Brown and RISD students have signed up for MunchCard — a student-created restaurant discount program — a month into its launch. The MunchCard, billed by its creators as an off-campus alternative to University meal plans, is now being accepted at 20 College Hill eateries, with more to come.
While the Blue Room now offers Asian food, Josiah's added Polish sausage and the Gate has been outfitted with miniature tables, the MunchCard is driving changes of its own on Thayer Street, affecting where students decide to eat and how much they spend.
"I don't think it makes sense for anyone not to have a MunchCard," said Jacob Price '13, who is not on a campus meal plan and frequently uses the card.
Andrew Silverman '14, who is not yet a MunchCard user, said while he would consider using the card as a supplement to his meal plan, he would not completely abandon a campus meal plan before senior year.
The card is accepted at most Thayer Street restaurants, from Andreas to Mama Kim's — which, along with FroyoWorld and East Side Pockets — is one of the most popular destinations for card users, according to MunchCard co-founder Ben Vishny '14.
As originally formulated, MunchCard mimicked University meal plans' combination of meal credits and points, but Vishny and co-founder Steven Tran '13 ultimately opted for a more straightforward discount model. Students can put money on the card, which then works like a debit card.
Cardholders receive a 10 percent discount at most of the destinations that accept MunchCard. Meeting Street Cafe, which already offers a 10 percent student discount, offers 20 percent off the menu price to card users.
Some restaurants, such as Kartabar, offer prix fixe meals that cost $6.99 with a MunchCard.
"Students who would never really come here are coming in now for lunch and for dinner," said Susan Mardo, Kartabar's general manager. "It's good for us and good for students."
Tran and Vishny piloted the program this summer, but when it began in earnest this fall, a few restaurants encountered technical difficulties.
After trying to pay with her card at Antonio's, Amina Saigol '13 said employees could not figure out whether the transaction had been completed. She later checked her account online and realized she had not been charged for the meal.
Tran said the system is now running more smoothly.
This is good news for the two founders, who have been working to establish the company's reputation on campus.
"We're still new, we're still young, and we want to show everyone it's safe and legitimate," Tran said.
The company is also focused on growth. Last week, in an effort to sign up more students, MunchCard offered $5 credits at Meeting Street Cafe to new customers, in addition to the $3 every cardholder receives towards Mama Kim's upon signing up.
The company has also sought out new partner restaurants. In the past week, Paragon and Geoff's joined the growing list of restaurants with "MunchCard Accepted Here" decals on their doors.
Vishny and Tran said they are also recruiting Mijos Taco Truck, which has recently appeared on campus, and some franchises, like Chipotle and Au Bon Pain.
In the long term, the co-founders said the meal plan may reach Wickenden street and potentially incorporate convenience stores, like Metro Mart.
While they are running a for-profit business, Vishny and Tran said they are more focused on leaving a lasting impact at Brown. Considering the hours the two have put into MunchCard, if profit were the primary concern, Vishny said, "We would be better off working for BuDS."