SF State University Corporation may create a new vendor policy and welcome a national restaurant chain to do business on campus in the coming semester.
A recent proposal to offer Panda Express a location on campus prompted UCorp to consider allowing national chains in as vendors. UCorp proposed a provision that would maintain 60 percent local businesses, 20 percent franchises and allow 20 percent chains, according to UCorp Executive Director Jason Porth.
“We want to make sure what we continue to offer in the building is in the best interest of the campus community and also in the best interest in running the center effectively,” Porth said.
The deal does not become official until the new vendor first reaches an agreement with the current vendor, Asia Express, and then comes to terms with UCorp. The decision could be made as early as mid-January, according to Porth.
The owners of Asia Express approached the Cesar Chavez Student Center board to relinquish their space and proposed bringing Panda Express in as their replacement in 2013. When Ucorp appropriated vendor oversight as a part of the CCSC and Associated Students Incorporated merger in August 2013, the owners presented the plan to UCorp to consider, Porth said.
Porth sent the ASI board an email Dec. 9 asking for approval of the proposal. Although UCorp manages the vendors, the board still has a say in who is allowed to do business in the Student Center, according to Board of Directors Project Lead Marcus Ismael.
ASI Vice President of University Affairs Celia LuBuono Gonzalez said she does not want the University to make a deal with Panda Express without more student input, and may write a resolution in opposition to UCorp’s proposal.
“The vendors are really critical to the identity that the campus represents,” Gonzalez said. “UCorp needs to understand that just asking students on the (ASI) board for input is not enough.”
Data from recent surveys suggest that the student body favors welcoming a Panda Express on campus, according to Porth, who said the surveys asked students about their food preferences, the types of vendors they want on campus and which current vendors they patronize.
“We want there to be a sense of place here, we want to have offerings that are uniquely San Francisco,” Porth said. “We also want to have offerings that are ones that students are craving, so finding that balance is critical.”
ASI Student Sustainability Manager Liana Derus works with vendors on campus to help make them more sustainable and does not think Panda Express would fit in well with that effort.
“Because they are such a large company they are probably getting their food as cheap as possible, and the level of command is higher up,” Derus said. “The person making the decisions of where they are getting their supplies is basically going to be unreachable by us.”
UCorp would be willing to take sustainability initiatives into consideration if national chains get the green light to do business on campus, according to Porth who said another possibility would be to give every vendor a “sustainability score” that students could consider when choosing where to spend their money.
Integrating principles into new vendor contracts that would compel businesses to use more sustainable food sources and packaging could be the answer, Derus said.
“This is us welcoming them into our space, this shouldn’t be them kind of coming in and taking over,” Derus said. “I’ve seen other university campuses that are dominated by major fast food chains and it’s disappointing.”