North Campus food co-op shut down by new University guidelines

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File Photo/Daily

 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 7:54pm

The Chez Betty food co-op, located in the Beyster building on North Campus, has announced it will be closing at the end of April. According to a Facebook post, written by Chez Betty Operations Manager Pat Pannuto on Wednesday, the co-op does not fall under the grandfathering policy of the University's Food Service Planning Guidelines and is being shut down.

Chez Betty was founded in 2012 and is currently operated by the Computer Science and Engineering Graduate Student Organization.

The market is completely self-service and stocked by volunteers. Students who deposit money into their accounts at Chez Betty can effectively go into debt, if necessary, to pay for items they require. The facility's profits are spent on financial losses from theft and are used to improve the co-op.

According to the Food Service Planning Guidelines, new student-run food services are not permitted on campus. However, the guidelines, last updated in September 2016, allow certain services to continue operating.

“The Office of the Provost and the Office of Vice President for Student Life are aware of a small number of existing student-run food service operations on the Ann Arbor campus,” the guidelines read. “These operations have been granted special permission to continue operating with the understanding they are complying with current University and government rules, laws, and regulations related to food safety; fire and life safety; insurance and liability; and financial and tax reporting requirements."

The guidelines note the University has the right to end a student-run operation for any reason.

In his Facebook post, Pannuto wrote he is not sure why Chez Betty did not qualify for grandfather status.

“While student-run food operations are typically disallowed, we hoped that Betty would be grandfathered in, similar to the DB Cafe and Pi Tau Sigma’s bratwurst stand,” Pannuto wrote. “Unfortunately, the University administration has chosen not to grandfather Betty, and they’ve provided us with no information as to why, nor an avenue to appeal.”

In an interview, Pannuto said Chez Betty has had two meetings with the Provost’s office — one in October and one in December.

He said the Provost’s office called for the October meeting after learning of Chez Betty’s existence to determine whether or not to grandfather the facility. He said they wanted to understand how the organization operated. It was also at this meeting that Pannuto and his team were made aware of the Food Service Planning Guidelines. He said they were told the office would get back to them after evaluating Chez Betty.

Pannuto said he did not hear back until early December when the Provost office scheduled another meeting. He said the meeting served to notify his team that Chez Betty would be shut down.

“At that meeting, we started trying to press a little bit to understand why — what went into that decision — and it was pretty opaque,” he said.

Pannuto said they learned the Provost office had met with several other offices, including Financial Operations, and there were effectively "more no’s than yes’s.”

Since then, the Chez Betty organizers have been trying to meet with such offices to determine which ones oppose Chez Betty and how to potentially address such concerns. However, he said their actions haven’t made a difference.

In an email to the Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote the Provost's office and College of Engineering have been in talks with the students who run Chez Betty since last fall; he said students have known about its termination since fall.

“The students have known since fall that they would have to cease operations by the end of this academic year,” he wrote.

Fitzgerald reiterated the Food Service guidelines, explaining the service is not up to code.

“The establishment of Chez Betty does not comply with the university’s well-established process for assessing the need for food service in a university building,” he wrote. “The students are essentially operating a 24-7 convenience store in a student lounge without proper state licensing or regulation.”

He noted, however, that an “assessment of the need for 24-7 food options on North Campus is in the works.

Pannuto also noted the importance of such an establishment on North Campus — where there is currently not 24-7 access to food. He said the University talks about fixing the problem but has yet to act.

“There is a lot of talk of, ‘We’re working on this, we’re looking into it,’ but there’s no action — there’s nothing actually opening,” he said. “The only thing they’re actually doing is closing down the only 24-7 operation that exists.”

LSA junior Ritam Mehta spends a lot of time on North Campus with his computer science schedule. He said Chez Betty is necessary for students who study and have a lot of their classes in the Beyster building and on North Campus in general. When he heard Chez Betty was closing, he questioned where students on North will find affordable food.

“I was pretty disappointed and I was more than anything just kind of frustrated with the fact that on North Campus, it can be hard to find affordable dining options especially because off-campus food is not incredibly accessible to people without cars,” he said. “North Campus dining options aren’t open 24/7 like Chez Betty is.”

LSA senior Allison Lahnalam, who also studies computer science, uses the facility frequently. She said she emailed the administrators whose contacts were provided in the Facebook post to express her concerns earlier on Wednesday.   

She said Chez Betty provides a resource for students who might not have financial or food security.

“I know for me personally, it’s very, very helpful, in times when I’m very busy and I have a pretty low budget,” she said.

However, she said one thing she is particularly concerned about is no longer having access to the affordable feminine care products offered by Chez Betty.

“Another thing that is really important to me is that it provides, for the women engineers, feminine care and it’s affordable, one of the most low-cost ways you can get it on North Campus,” she said. “It does a lot to show that the Engineering community cares about women when they have a service like that for us to be able to get [products] instead of us needing to go home or paying more than we should to get what we need.”

She said these products are much cheaper than they might be at U-GO’s, a convenience store managed by Michigan Dining.

According to Mehta, Chez Betty also gives engineers and others on North Campus a place to meet and make new friends over snacks.

“It’s something that’s special and it’s something that’s run by students and that’s really nice,” he said. “It has transformed the graduate lounge into an actual place where people spend time and get to know each other and talk to each other.”