As the dining courts change to accommodate students’ suggestions from the fall semester, students say they are once again struggling with long lines and limited options.
Robert Hense, a freshman in the College of Engineering, started a petition asking the University to either improve dining options or refund a portion of the money. The petition, which currently has over a thousand signatures, also highlights students’ inability to get an unlimited amount of food with a single swipe.
“We acknowledge that the dining experience needs to be different this year due to COVID; however, the price should be changed accordingly,” the petition reads.
One alternative to traditional dining options is Purdue West, located opposite of McCutcheon Hall, home to a couple of local restaurants and large chains including Subway and Dairy Queen.
Coby Torrence, a freshman in exploratory studies, said the proximity to his dorm was one of the reasons he visited Purdue West.
“I live in McCutcheon, so this place is easier for me to get to as compared to other restaurants on campus like Panera Bread and Jersey Mike’s,’’ he said.
While Torrence believed he may visit Purdue West again, he said it would be easier to make that decision if the restaurants offered meal swipes.
But Purdue West is not easily accessible to all parts of campus, and some students say they didn’t know about the restaurants at all.
Jeongwoo Lee, a graduate student in the College of Engineering, said he didn’t know about Purdue West until he happened to walk past it on the way back from class.
Laury Hollingsworth, a Grubhub driver, noted that she doesn’t get too many orders from Purdue West.
“I get most of my orders from students getting food from Dairy Queen and Subway, but even those are rare compared to orders from Chauncey,” she said.
Business owners contrast their own hardships with regard to advertising with Crave, a large corporation that recently opened a branch in Purdue-owned apartment complex Aspire.
“Rather than work with small businesses, Purdue spends a ton of money promoting a big chain like Crave,” said Matt Bestich, owner of the Guac Box.
Bestich, who also owns and operates a food truck, recently joined the restaurants at Purdue West when he opened up a physical store in November.
The decision to open a physical store made sense when it became clear that the contract his food truck had struck up with Aramark Corporation would not work, Bestich said.
“I started the store in mid-November, and we lease this store from Purdue Research Foundation,” he said.
Bestich said the biggest change from a food truck to a restaurant is that he now has room to play around in a kitchen and cook.
“We get an average of 20 to 30 kids, plus families, in West Lafayette every week,” he said. “Our popularity really shot up when we were included in a post that went viral on Reddit.”
Ahmad Athamneh, the owner of Grilled Chicken and Rice in Purdue West, said that it was very common for students to come in complaining of long lines and limited options at the dining courts.
“We see the most student traffic on Friday’s and over the weekend, which is when the other restaurants don’t offer meal swipes,” he said.
Athamneh, who opened the store in January 2019, said his business took off during the pandemic. He initially relied on West Lafayette residents while students went home last spring.
But, once students started coming back in the fall, traffic increased and Athamneh credits this to his delivery-and-pickup-only business model.
“The amount of walk-ins almost doubled last semester because students would see the restaurant and come order food,” he said.
Harel Spivak, a freshman in the College of Engineering and a frequent customer at Grilled Chicken and Rice, is also in favor of implementing meal swipes at the Purdue West restaurants.
“I come here almost once a week because I live close by and I really like the food,” he said.
Spivak, who is Israeli, said that he initially discovered the place while looking for restaurants that offered Mediterranean cuisines. He wishes that he didn’t have to find places outside of the University to eat.
“I really wish they had more varieties of food,” he said. “Every dining court has the same three things in a loop.”
Bestich teamed up with Lauren Beck, a junior in the Krannert School of Management, who recently went viral on TikTok for her food-related videos.
He reached out to Beck on Instagram after reading about her in a previous Exponent article and offered her a free meal in exchange for her promoting his restaurant on her TikTok.
Beck said she ordered a Thursday special and was so impressed with the place that she decided to promote it on her Instagram as well.
“When it comes to small businesses, I don’t care about what they’re giving me in return,” she said. “If they ask for help, I would love to do it.”
Beck stressed the importance of supporting local businesses during the pandemic, mentioning the closing of the Neon Cactus bar as evidence.
“After seeing Neon Cactus go down it’s become so much more clear that we need to be helping out these businesses so we can keep them afloat,” she said.
Athamneh, who meticulously records statistics of his visitors, noted that student traffic is up by nearly 47% compared to last February. He hopes it will motivate the University to consider letting them take meal swipes.
“All we’re asking is to have an agreement where both fulfill their side of the agreement,” he said, referencing the failed agreement between Aramark and his food truck.