Price is Popping

New pop-up buzz brings it home for students.

There’s a place at Price Center where the concrete ends, the floor turns to warm wood planks and the feeling becomes what many would recognize as home—smiles, laughter, a buzz of conversation and yes, even the smell of baked goods.

This is Y Más, the newest addition to Price Center and the campus’s introduction to the growing phenomenon of “pop-ups”—niche storefronts that are nimble enough to set up operation swiftly and test out new markets and products.

The addition of Y Más on campus was part experiment, part community involvement and part answering the call of opportunity. After a longtime postal service counter was relocated, University Centers Executive Director Sharon Van Bruggen saw a chance to try something new. “We had the opportunity to create a unique space within the student union, one that could welcome and celebrate a vibrant culture that is such a big part of San Diego,” says Van Bruggen. She also thought that a pop-up space would help respond to student requests to bring more of an authentic San Diego experience to campus.

Marshall College student Joey Mendoza ’20, president of the student-run University Centers Advisory Board (UCAB), confirms, “Our students have consistently asked for more locally owned and operated businesses at the university.”

The small space presented a few issues, however—namely, no room for a back-of-the-house equipment area, much less capacity for a full-on restaurant. But it was ideal for experimentation, a venue in which to try out different products and see what resonates with students.

With a few demolished walls, some paint and decorative flair, the space became ready for business. First to try out the concept was the San Diego family business Su Pan, a panaderia or Mexican bakery. Then came Viva Pops, a paleteria or popsicle shop, followed by Blackbird Coffee, a craft coffee brewer that operates an unassuming, self-serve coffee bar. Together, the vendors seem to have found their sweet spot, as students are now seen sipping drinks on the space’s brightly mismatched chairs as they snack on pan dulce and tres leches.

“For many, especially the Latinx community on campus, I think Su Pan provides a memory of home,” says Muir graduate and former UCAB chair Alex Morrow ’19. Morrow recalls going to Mexican bakeries with friends in his hometown, and he feels a deep connection to the food in Y Más as well as the décor—the space is full of color, with green leafy houseplants hanging from the ceiling, bright murals and large papel picado banners with a spirited “Tritons” even cut into a few.

Mendoza echoes the sentiment. “The respectful way Y Más provides representation for the Latinx community on campus is what makes it such a unique space,” he says. And as for Van Bruggen, she’s happy that students are enjoying the space. “Y Más is intended to make you feel like you can stay awhile,” she says. “The space was inspired by modern Mexican courtyards where families and friends gather for laughter, dialogue and celebration, and that’s what the student union is all about.”

Tell us other San Diego spots that should be on campus: