Local restaurants hungry for input

by Nancy Ngo

Representatives from local food businesses said they want the option of placing bids to move or add their operations to University territory.
Leaders of the Dinkytown Business Association invited University representatives to its monthly meeting Wednesday to discuss how the University’s search for a private food service partnership affects local businesses.
“As neighbors, we should be included. We want a mutually beneficial relationship to serve University students and staff,” said Thomas Hughes, the president of the association and manager of Annies Parlour.
Hughes estimates that at least 70 percent of Dinkytown customers are affiliated with the University.
Local business representatives said they want to be more involved by providing input into negotiations.
“The University will have to weight their concerns with concerns of students, faculty and employees,” said Nancy Arneson, human resources director for Housing and Food Services.
Arneson led the discussion with association members, including representatives from McDonald’s, Annies, Vescio’s, Shuang Cheng Vietnamese Restaurant and Autographics — a business that does not serve food.
Local business owners said they fear they will lose customers because University facilities will draw patrons away. Arneson said she will relay their concerns to those involved in making food partnership decisions.
Arneson said the University will keep communication lines open and provide any public information requested to local businesses. Hughes said he is not entirely convinced that all concerns about participation will be considered, and that some businesses will inevitably lose money and possibly close.
Arneson said that business owners’ desires to be integrated into the partnership process were similar to those at a Stadium Village Commercial Association meeting last month.
Todd Dupont, the president of the Stadium Village Commercial Association and co-owner of Big 10 Restaurant and Bar, said he is waiting for more information about what is in the proposals so he can prepare for changes.
“There is very little information, so we have to guess,” said Dupont. “And you always think the worse unless you have other information.”
He also said he is upset that he was not told earlier about a private partnership, and that he didn’t have an opportunity to participate in the proposal process.
Communication with local business owners and the University will be channeled mainly through Ann O’Loughlin, who works with community relations.
O’Loughlin said she is working to provide local business owners with information they want. However, she didn’t find out about the proposal process until just recently, so she’s just begun her communications with local businesses.
“I was not told from inside. I learned from a local business owner,” she said.
O’Loughlin said she will ensure that University administrators consider local business competition issues at future meetings and solicit participation from those businesses.
“My role is that we don’t overlook those kind of interests in the dialogue,” O’Loughlin said.