News

Food Fight

UMass students do a lot of eating. Amherst restaurants want their cut of the business.

Comments (4)
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Amherst restaurateurs are concerned that UMass is promoting its own Auxiliary Services, which operates UMass’ food and hotel services, and impeding the ability of the local businesses to compete on a level playing field within the regional economy. Due to its large overhead capacity and limited tax and rental obligations, the restaurateurs say, Auxiliary Services is able to engage in business practices, such as offering parents of UMass students free meals throughout the year, that independent businesses can’t afford.

“This is government becoming enterprise,” Reza Rahmani, owner of the restaurant Moti and the nightclub Lit, told the Advocate. “If Walmart were doing this, they’d be sitting in court on monopoly charges.”

Owners of several restaurants, including Moti, the Black Sheep Deli, Antonio’s, Pasta E Basta, and the Hangar Pub and Grill met with state senator Stan Rosenberg, Rep. Ellen Story and Rep. Paul Mark on March 8 at the Ginger Garden in Amherst. A smaller group met with Rosenberg and Story March 15 at the Amherst Brewing Company.

The restaurateurs brought a concise list of concerns to their meeting at the Amherst Brewing Company. A separate list, created by the Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) and Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, whose executive director, Tony Maroulis, was in attendance at both meetings, was discussed as well. Rosenberg and Story are setting up a meeting between a few of the restaurateurs and UMass Chancellor Kubble Subbaswamy.

The requests of the restaurateurs include greater clarity regarding the university’s delivery and catering policies; allowing downtown businesses to provide catering at off-campus university events, such as parties at the houses of professors and end-of-year banquets for sports teams; and the implementation by UMass of a “one-card system,” whereby students can use a meal card to eat at off-campus as well as on-campus locations.

This type of meal system, Nick Seamon, owner of the Black Sheep Deli told the Advocate, is popular at “many, many, many” other state universities, such as the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The previously popular Off Campus Meal Plan (OCMP) program, started up by a UMass graduate as a private business not affiliated with UMass, allows students to use a meal card either on campus or off. It was widely used by students before the university began offering its own competing Your Campus Meal Plan (YCMP), contend the restaurateurs. The Black Sheep used to get $1,500 a month in revenue from the OCMP plan. Now, says Seamon, the deli gets $200 a month.

Particularly troubling for the group is the loss of several catering gigs that had long been a steady source of revenue. Seamon says the Black Sheep Deli has lost catering business to Auxiliary Services. Likewise, the UMass men’s hockey team recently told the Amherst Brewing Company that they had to use Auxiliary Services for their end-of-season banquet despite a previous agreement with the brewpub, owner John Korpita said.

“There’s also a huge concern about the tax exempt status” of Auxiliary Services in relation to the UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax) section of the tax code, continues Seamon.

But university officials say they are supportive of the local businesses, and continue to work closely with them.

“The total amount of money we’ve spent on food in the community has risen in the past three years,” Edward Blaguszewski, executive director of the university’s Office of News and Media Relations, told the Advocate. “It’s in our books.”

Prospective new faculty and staff, for example, are often taken out to local restaurants as part of the recruitment process. In 2012, UMass paid $706,000 to local restaurants and caterers and spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars at area grocery stores.

Furthermore, Blaguszewski says, UMass’ state funds are “entrusted to the university” to determine how they should be spent, and are not “public money to be bid on.”

As for restaurant owners’ concerns about Auxiliary Services, Blaguszewski notes that the nonprofit is “self-sustaining,” and that all money made from its food service and hotel operations is put back into the university. In other words, Auxiliary Services is a revenue source for the university in a time of lean budgets.

Worry about lost business with the university began to intensify a year and a half ago, when “an unknown professor dropped off a copy of a memo at Black Sheep Deli,” the Daily Collegian reported. The memo, written by former Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Joyce Hatch in 2007, was sent to department heads, directors, and deans, and states that “private vendors operating food carts, concessions, catering and other food service operations are prohibited from operating on campus.”

The downtown restaurants began meeting about two years ago, Seamon told the Advocate. They addressed their concerns to Story in the fall of 2011, and to Rosenberg in the spring of 2012. “It took a while to see that others were experiencing the same thing,” Seamon says of the restaurateurs’ shared business struggles. “Everybody has a story.”

Seamon acknowledged that, while the restaurant owners are grateful for the help of the representatives, many in the group have grown skeptical of the process. Rahmani said he worries that these discussions will be reduced to “politics as usual.”

“The fact that so many owners were at that first meeting should speak volumes,” Rahmani told the Advocate. “The status quo is no longer working.”

A UMass alum who graduated in 2004, Rahmani opened Moti in 2009. “I did it in good faith,” he says, referring to an expected give-and-take relationship between the university and downtown businesses.

“But at the rate we’re going, you’ll see places boarded up in a year or two,” he says, noting that, if presented with the opportunity to do it again, he would not open Moti this time around: “Not in a million years.”•

Comments (4)
Post a Comment

so these greedy business owners want the citizenry (through their subsidation of UMASS) to pay for their businesses to earn a profit when it is far cheaper to use the existing dining services of the university?

What obligation do we have to keep costs down to keep tuition more affordable? Apparently none as long as the local restaurant industry stands to profiteer on the backs of taxpayers. Talk about adopting a stance of such greediness that it's more important to profit than educate.

Stand up and write to Story and Rosenberg to ensure they know the community won't stand for these shenanigans from businesses so pathetic they cannot compete against competitors in a fair and open environment.

Posted by tiedyeguy on 3.27.13 at 10:26

The university should focus more funds into research, technology and education; less on having bars and late night snacks for students. These bars and snacks mimic the local economy's businesses and undermine people and their businesses who worked hard to be successful, not people who are greed driven.

Edward Blaguszewski then tosses out a figure of $700K that the University spends at local businesses each year. The businesses are greatful for the University spending with them, but if you divide the $700K between the businesses it's spent at, then take into account the payroll expenses, rent, food costs, utilities, garbage disposal, etc...the $700k becomes a much smaller number.

If you think The State Vs. Small Business is a fair and open environment, you got to have a screw loose. We elect officials like Story and Rosenberg to stand up for our local economies, which employ people who live here year round, not some work study barista at the DC. They stand up for us, not for The State.

Posted by JayCarr85 on 3.31.13 at 20:09

The State is us, and every action we take to weaken their position, weakens us. The simple salient point is that there is no need to increase our student's educational expenses to simply allow parasitic restaurants who have no valid business model other than looking for a handout from the unversity due to their physical proximity (and let's be honest, the school was here long before these commercial establisments voluntarily hitched their wagon to students fortunes).

Say no to another pathetic money grab by greedmongers who could care less about the cost of an education.

Posted by tiedyeguy on 4.2.13 at 11:12

TieDyeGuy


I understand you must have some political views and agendas that lead you to speak your mind, in which you have every right to do. I encourage you to step outside of the bubble for a bit, and talk to some of these Greed Mongers, which I'm sure you abhor, and hear what exactly they have to 'complain' about.

Nobody wants UMass to PAY the business owners to stay open. The business owners simply wants UMass to stop their aggressive expansion into territories unrelated to education, which has a negative impact on Main Street Amherst.

UMass has a hotel. A restaurant. A bar. Multiple 'convenience' stores. Soon to be a legitimate grocery store. All of which, are open to the public, and directly compete with local businesses. Profits are tax sheltered. Labor paid through work study programs. WHY is it far cheaper to use the existing dining services, I wonder?

The University should be a leader and a liason to the community, not a vampiric leech which takes the charm out of a once vibrant downtown Amherst. There are many real and active community/university relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial. States like Arizona, Michigan, enjoy great town/univeristy relationships.

There does not only have to be an adversarial relationship where the university copies menus of local businesses and undercuts them because they can with lower costs for labor, lack of taxes, lack of any rent obligations.

Southwest Delivery Express (Sound Familiar? Because the name directly rips off Delivery Express, an independent small business that runs deliveries for business that don't offer it, so customers can enjoy the food from home. https://www.deliveryexpress.com/home.htm)

Southwest Delivery Express Menu:

http://www.umassdining.com/sites/default/files/SWDelMenuV2_Spring13r4.pdf

Wings Over Amherst Menu:

http://wingsover.com/menus/amherst-menu.pdf

Look familiar? It's a direct copy, change the names. DC-3 is the Freshman. DC-10 is the Sophomore. Do I need to go on?

Do you support this too TieDyeGuy? Monopolies? Abuse of Tax Exemption Laws? This isn't State vrs Little Guy. It's Big Business vs Mom and Pops. How is this any different if we were to be fighting Walmart? Walmart uses its large purchasing power to bring costs down to wipe out competition. I BET you'd cry foul there. But when a State Institution does the same thing, all of a sudden, Mom and Pops are the enemies and greed mongers being parasitic to the community?


And what is it that you do? Does your job not involve any 'profits' to be made? Do you work for free? Does your family dinner table feed on rainbows and unicorns? These are real issues, that affect real people. So before you go and call us Greed Mongers, you should look at how many of us are just struggling to feed our families. Do you know how much rent is in the area? Do you know what it feels like to be responsible for over 20 employees all counting on you to make sure they have food on their table, or money to pay the rent so they can have shelter? Do you want to call us Greedmongers one more time?

Once again, I invite you to talk to these greed mongers and find out yourself the hardships they go through, and perhaps you'll see that these are hard working individuals trying to feed their families - Just. Like. You.

Posted by Greedmonger #1 on 4.22.13 at 18:32
Comment:

Name:

Password:

New User/Guest?

Find it Here:
keyword:
search type:
search in:

« Previous   |   Next »
Print Email RSS feed


In Satoshi We Trust?
Outside the Cage
How solid is the case for organic and cage-free egg production?
Between the Lines: Practically Organic
Does the organic farming movement make perfect the enemy of good?
Scene Here: The Kitchen Garden Farm
From Our Readers
Profiles in Survival
Young business owners in retail-rich Northampton get along by getting along.
The Burning Question
Neighbors of a proposed wood-burning plant in Springfield cry foul air