Get ready, breakfast lovers. This semester, Benny’s Diner will officially open its doors in Houston Hall, bringing with it a variety of homestyle breakfast items. The best part? Their dishes will be served all day long for whenever that craving for chocolate chip pancakes strikes. And, as one of ten Penn Student Agencies (PSA) businesses, Benny’s is run and staffed entirely by students.
Co–founders Michael Warren (C ’21) and Jazzy Ortega (E ’20) didn’t always dream of starting a business during their time at Penn. For the two of them, the inspiration to open a food service business here at Penn took form in an unexpected way: a pizzeria.
Both active members of PSA, Michael and Jazzy attended the 2019 Student–Run Business Association Conference, where they watched a presentation by Loyola University Chicago students who had opened a pizza restaurant on their campus. “We thought [the idea of] it was really cool,” Michael says.
“[Initially], we just joked about it,” Jazzy recounts, but on their trip back to Penn it became a little more serious. “We started running ideas through our heads and thinking, ‘Wow, it would be really great if we could have this! Penn doesn’t have anything like this,’” Michael adds.
Since the very beginning, the Benny’s Diner team has kept the desires of Penn students at the forefront.
“Being students ourselves, I feel that we were really able to tap into the student experience and what we thought was missing here on campus,” Michael says. “When it was originally announced that Frontera was closing, there were so many students who were like, ‘Hey, we need breakfast options.’”
The Penn community asked, and Benny’s Diner will deliver with a host of classic breakfast favorites. “We haven’t yet finalized everything, but we’re definitely trying to keep it in the scope of omelets, waffles, pancakes, hash browns. Hopefully in a more customizable way where you can change your toppings, change your fillings,” Michael states.
Benny’s is also hoping to bring a variety of vegan offerings to campus. “I’m vegan, so I’m trying to incorporate some fun vegan breakfast options because there’s really nothing like that around here,” Jazzy says.
But the Benny’s Diner team is bringing more than just delicious breakfast food to Penn—they’re also offering up unique employment opportunities. “Being part of PSA, we’re able to hire entirely students, offering that work–study experience,” Michael notes. “Nowhere else on campus can you have the experience of learning how to cook and working in a restaurant.”
Michael and Jazzy also hope that working for Benny’s will allow students to find a new community on campus. “It’s great if you want to have a fun experience where your boss is also a student and all of your co–workers are students,” Jazzy adds.
While Benny’s Diner will be located in Houston Hall in the space previously occupied by Paris La Petite Creperie, they will not be accepting swipes or Dining Dollars as payment, a move that the Benny’s team believes is in the students’ best interest. “I have personally been advocating for us to not really do it because of how much extra it would cost us, and we do want to be able to keep the menu affordable. We would probably have to hike up prices to be able to make a profit if we did accept dining dollars,” Jazzy explains, “But we do accept all other forms of payment: PennCash, credit or debit, cash.”
Luckily, Penn students won’t have to wait too long to sample Benny’s homestyle dishes. “We have yet to officially put down a date [to open] because we want to make sure that it's of a quality that we are ready to give to the Penn community," Michael states. "But it's definitely going to be within the next two months."
In the meantime, the best way to get updates on the happenings at Benny’s is to follow their social media pages. “Definitely follow our social media over these next few weeks because we will not only be posting updates on the space itself but also on menu items,” Michael says.