End of an Era?

Imagine, you have twenty minutes until your next class and you are hungry. There are two options for hot and prepared food. The dining Halls – long lines, pre-prepared foods, and lots of preservatives- and then there are the food carts- freshly made sandwiches and burgers, reasonable prices and smaller lines. They are the only place on campus someone can order a cheesesteak or french-fries and watch them be cooked.

Many students and faculty choose the food carts to fulfill their epicurean needs because the food is tastier, faster, cheaper and generally the most delightful on campus. Both faculty and students agree that they love to eat at Pam’s Deli, Blondini’s, Ali-Baba’s and Lucky’s Chinese, and proprietors of the carts serve them loyally.

Recently it has been brought to light that the school may not remain loyal to the vendors as University Place, where the vendors preside, has been bought from Burlington, by the University of Vermont. The street was purchased in pursuit of UVM’s desire to improve the campus through beautification, i.e. adding trees and increasing the size of the green. George and Pam of Pam’s Deli, who have worked on the street for the past twenty-eight years, fear that the school will force them off University Place. They, like most of the food vendors, fear for the security of their position because UVM has an exclusive contract with Sodexo.

Sodexo, under contract with UVM, is the only company allowed to sell food on UVM property and every dining hall is supplied by this company. The vendors fear that Sodexo will use its corporate might and force UVM to kick the vendors off the street in order to reduce competition and maximize their own profit.

Unfortunately Sodexo is not the only force working against the food-carts. Under the Universities new plan, University Place will be made more aesthetically pleasing by possibly blocking the street off to cars, cutting down the street signs and anything else which is viewed as an eye sore. There is no question that if the vendors were gone, replaced by trees and grass then campus would be much more attractive, but a lot more people would be hungry and the vendors would lose the ability to make a living.

Linda Seavey, Director of University Planning said in a phone interview that the university “is very sympathetic” to the vendors and is going to work hard to find the best solutions. She said that forums will be held in the spring to hear what people want the green to look like, this way all active voices can be heard. However, Blondini’s, Pam’s and Lucky’s all believe that if the vendors are forced to move they will lose business and or eventually be forced off the campus.

Lap Ninh, the owner of Lucky’s Chinese food, which has been on the street for 12 years said that there “is no business further away” and would be very unhappy to move. The proprietor of Blondin’s, who has sold freshly grilled items on campus for the last eleven years said “kids won’t like it” if the vendors are moved. A petition that the vendors are circulating proves Blondini right with over four-hundred-fifty signatures, 70% of which are students. George, of Pam’s Deli, says that the school needs to listen to the students, but unfortunately he sees the situation as glib because in August when the vendors’ contracts expire he believes the University will say “hit the road.”

The food vendors believe that they have the right to stay at this central location because they serve the university all year round. During the summer months when few of the dining halls are open many students and faculty are able to get food from the trucks.

As the University goes through a “master planning process” it will have to make a decision on whether the food vendors can stay or if they will at least be moved to another spot on campus. Ben Alexander, a current junior, said in a candid interview “the vendors need to stay where they are, the food is great, the owners have shown that the campus wants them by staying in business year after year, and any policy to kick them off campus would just go to show that the administration does not care what the students think.” Still the University insists that it will do everything to keep the vendors on-campus where they can successfully serve the community.