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Restaurant owners find UMass unfair

We would like to clarify and add to the article in last week’s Bulletin (“Crying Foul”) about the University of Massachusetts food policy and business activities.

As stated in the article, a little over $600,000 was spent on pro-cards (credit cards) by campus departments for food from off-campus restaurants and stores in 2011. But, to put that amount in perspective, everyone should know that UMass Auxiliary Enterprises took in close to $70 million that year. The $600,000 in sales at local restaurants represents less than 1 percent of that income.

UMass is using public tax dollars and its restrictive policies to build up its large, profit-making food business. Ken Toong, who directs Auxilliary Services, stated at a Rotary Club lunch last fall that it would soon be a $100 million per year business.

Those of us in the off-campus restaurant community would like to know where he thinks this additional $30 million is going to come from.

In the article, a loose comparison was made between UMass and Amherst and Hampshire colleges. This is misleading. Most importantly, UMass is the recipient of public tax money. It has fiscal and legal responsibilities that do not apply to private colleges, who are spending their own money.

Also, in this comparison to private colleges, Nancy Buffone, executive director for the Office of External Relations and University Events, stated that “if a private company handled campus dining services” it would “prohibit all outside food.” Well, this is certainly not true at Hampshire College. The college has a private food service company and outside food is still allowed.

The infamous 2007 memo written by the vice chancellor of administration and finance stated that the university’s “policy is meant to insure compliance with applicable health and safety standards regarding the preparation and serving of food” and to “insure services meet standards which preclude issues of campus liability.” The purpose of the memo was to protect the Auxilliary Enterprises stronghold on all food dollars on campus. It appeared to be a scare tactic to influence all departments on campus to curb their use of all off-campus food vendors. We are all licensed and inspected by the town health department and know of no reported instances of any problems with our food.

We want to be clear. We are not only concerned about the lack of catering on campus. Auxilliary Services has been busy buying two fancy food trucks, copying local businesses’ menus and competing with businesses that counted on late-night orders. Whether it be for late-night customers, graduation families, visitors to campus, sports teams, or academic departments, a $70 million behemoth is competing with us unfairly.

All of us in the off-campus restaurant community want to have a good, mutually beneficial relationship with the university. But putting a few business names in the commencement program, to be seen by families who may never return to Amherst, is not enough. And spending less than 1 percent of the university’s food budget off-campus is also not enough.

Let’s work together to get this right.

Nick Seamon owns The Black Sheep Deli, Reza Rahmani owns Moti and Lit. The views in the column are also supported by Rafi Ellison of Portabello Fine Foods and Catering, Rob Watson of The Lone Wolf, John Korpita of Amherst Brewing Company and Bobby Barkett of White Hut.

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