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New ‘L8nite’ options for UK students, from a UK student

On the first floor of Cornerstone Garage, you will now be greeted by music, an arcade and a neon light that reads “L8nite” — the name of a student-founded and -ran restaurant created with students’ needs in mind. 

This past October, L8nite joined the ranks of fast food joints for University of Kentucky students on or near campus, though what sets it apart from others is its unique operating schedule.

The aptly named restaurant is open Sunday through Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., making it the only option on campus for night owls.

L8nite owner and UK student Mohamed Weheba said there “was not really many late night options in terms of food,” which is how he started to think up the idea for his business. 

Weheba said he started at UK in 2020 and lived in Lewis Hall, right next to The 90, but they typically closed around 10 p.m. This left him with two choices: getting his car from Kroger Field to drive to a restaurant or ordering through DoorDash, which can be expensive for college students, he said.

“I got the idea early on, but I only really decided to actually like do it last year around September,” Weheba said.

Weheba said he was very worried at first to open his restaurant because he didn’t do any prior research, later finding out that most restaurants end up failing within the first year or two of their opening. 

He also said he knew it was a very saturated market and that Lexington already has a lot of different restaurants. But “I knew that my concept was targeting a very specific people,” Weheba said. 

Weheba said he decided to take a gap year to open his business, but is a full-time student again this semester. 

“I had no restaurant experience whatsoever,” he said. “So early on, I realized I had to get a consultant, so I did hire a consultant who was a chef for over 30 years, and he kind of helped me set up the plan, the kitchen, on all that stuff.”

Weheba said it took them about a year to get the space in Cornerstone fully ready and equipped, and it wasn’t until April or May when they were set to open. He then decided to wait until the semester had started and fall break was over so that students would be back in the area. 

“I decided on this place because it was really close to campus and the dorms,” Weheba said. 

Mo Weheba, manager of L8Nite, poses for a photo in front of a neon sign outside Cornerstone at the University of Kentucky on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Gracie Moore | Staff (Gracie Moore)

He said before they opened, there was “the mental hardship of it” because he didn’t know if his plan would come together, and now that they are open, he said there is more of a physical hardship since he can work up to 12 hours some days.

Weheba explained that although operating L8nite is his first time in the restaurant business, he has created several other businesses in the past. 

“I’ve always been into like online businesses, ever since I was like 12, mostly in the video game space,” he said. “I got the funds from there.”

Weheba said his main online business right now involves display advertising, and he sold part of it to raise the funds for his restaurant. 

He said he gained a lot of marketing experience through that business, which has helped him utilize apps like Google, Instagram and TikTok to help L8nite take off much faster.

Weheba said he didn’t expect any bank or company would want to give a 20-year-old with no restaurant experience a loan to open a restaurant, so he knew the only way to make it happen was if he funded the whole thing himself.

He said this adds much more of a risk factor, which he enjoys, and now he doesn’t have to worry about paying any loans back. 

Weheba said he knew students would want very cheap delivery, and L8nite currently offers free delivery anywhere on campus. His employees often use electric scooters to get deliveries out quickly to campus residents. 

He said the restaurant also accepts CatCash as a form of payment now, and he’s working with the university to make Flex Dollars another payment option. 

Right now, L8nite uses self-service kiosks for placing orders, which anyone can come in and place an order with, and Weheba said their goal is to get orders out in five minutes. 

They are also on food delivery services, such as DoorDash and Grubhub.

Weheba said his restaurant gives people who are out partying or at neighboring bars a food option within walking distance.

“It’s kind of like solving a problem, which did give me some courage to do this,” he said. 

He said he also created an arcade area for their guests that he wants to keep adding to, making the place more cozy and inviting. He said even if people don’t want to eat, he still wants them to feel welcome to come in and play games or hangout. 

Weheba said every single one of his employees is a UK student, mostly freshman and sophomores.

He said he trains everyone he hires to do every job. He uses an app for scheduling, where he posts available shifts that employees can request based on what works best for their schedule, making things very flexible.

“I know as a college student myself, you know, some weeks you have an exam and you don’t want to work, or some weekends you want to go back to your hometown, so it’s very flexible,” he said. 

Neon signs and bright colors light up the front of L8 Nite in Cornerstone at the University of Kentucky on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Gracie Moore | Staff (Gracie Moore)

Tori Arnold, a freshman media arts and studies major at UK, is a manager at L8nite. She said she found the job through a TikTok advertisement and started at the restaurant around the time of its opening. 

She said it seemed like a fit for her because it paid more than her last restaurant job, and L8nite was more flexible. 

Arnold said she lives in Jewell Hall, so it’s only a quick walk away. She also enjoys getting to work with other college students. 

“I feel like this is a really good resource for students, especially since we’re open so late,” Arnold said. “A lot of restaurants around here, like McDonald’s, they close at 10 (p.m.), so how are people supposed to eat if they’re out partying?”

Another L8Nite employee, Camille Puil, said she also enjoys working at the restaurant.

Puil, a freshman merchandising, apparel and textiles major, said she primarily works at the prep station, building the burgers and restocking items like drinks and sauces.

She said she also started at the restaurant around the time it opened. She heard about it through Instagram, and also lives nearby on campus and saw L8nite’s glowing neon signs. Now an employee, Puil enjoys working close to her dorm and gets a free meal to take home every shift, she said.

“It’s really nice because you get to pick your own hours, and (Mohamed’s) really flexible with that,” Puil said.

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