A new Starbucks coffee location is set to open this week in the North Silo, furthering the corporation’s grip on our impressionable eating habits. This is the second Starbucks on campus, both of which are run by the also national Sodexo, Inc., a self described “world leader” in food service.
While UC Davis is under contract with Sodexo until at least 2014, it is tempting to imagine the business and ethical improvements that could be made if the campus committed itself to local, student-organized food services, rather than the exponentially increasing corporations that we see today.
According to Brett Burns, executive director of Campus Unions, Sodexo has had a presence on campus for the last 30 years. In addition to the North Silo, they manage the campus dining commons, Cargo Coffee, concession stands at sports games and the various food carts across campus. UC Davis collects eight percent commission on regular sales and 20 percent on concessions.
This money is put toward funding campus facilities, such as the Memorial Union. The ASUCD Coffee House (CoHo) also pays into this fund, though at a commission of two percent. According to Burns, the non-student run businesses are more profitable and essentially end up subsidizing things like the CoHo.
While money is an inescapable factor, it seems questionable whether a national chain will really pull in more profits than a CoHo model or a local coffee shop, given the same location and resources. Will anybody really run from the MU to the Silo, just for a brand? Students are busy and choices are made on convenience.
That said, the Silo location more of less guarantees sales. There does not seem to be any ‘risk’ factor for Sodexo in choosing a smaller coffee shop. The only competition is other Sodexo businesses. Why, then, has a local, Davis-tailored business not been a priority?
Assuming consistent foot traffic, both Sodexo and Campus Unions missed a big chance to support local business. Local ownership would ensure that student dollars would stay in the Davis economy. Similarly, a CoHo model, which requires student employees, means the money goes directly into students’ pockets.
This is a lot to take in, but here are the basics.
The truth is, Sodexo is contracted for the long haul and all efforts against them are futile. In addition, Campus Unions works with Sodexo to choose which companies are brought in, but there was no obvious student or faculty involvement in the Starbucks decision. It would have been nice to see the issue as a ballot measure.
The good news is, as evidenced by the ongoing renovations, the Silo is always changing. With enough of a reaction, the campus might actually influence what businesses are brought in.