Rumbling Stomachs Hunger for More Options at SMC's Satellite Campuses

When you hear the term "food court" you may envision a vast selection of hot, freshly prepared foods, flavors from all over the globe, able to satisfy anyone's palate. At SMC's main campus, the cafeteria isn't quite this astonishing, but at least students have a selection of freshly prepared food with some variety.

Students at SMC's satellite campuses are not so lucky. Lack of sustenance at the satellite campuses has led students to bring snacks, buy junk or just sit through class with grumbling stomachs.

The food court at the Bundy campus is hardly a food court at all; rather it is a smallish room with a few tables, a microwave and four vending machines. Two of the machines serve drinks; one offers coffee while the other has soft drinks and bottled water. Another machine vends typical snack food: chips, candy bars, cookies etc., while the other has a few sandwiches and microwavable food. This same quartet of vending machines can be found at all satellite campuses.

Cindy, a second year international business major, takes morning classes at the main campus. She will often try to eat there before making the trek to Bundy for afternoon classes. She said the main campus "doesn't have a good selection, but it has a better selection. Here you either get chips or candy or food that doesn't really look appealing."

Katharine Muller, dean of external programs, said that despite offering healthier food options in the past "the students always want, essentially, the junk food."

As for having a hot food option at the satellite campuses, Charlie Yen, director of events and contract services, points out that specific guidelines must be met in order to house fresh food vendors.

"You need to have proper spaces," he said, "which we don't have at satellite campuses."

Even if they did have proper space to house vendors, compared with the main campus the satellites do not have nearly as many students purchasing food, creating an unstable business model for any prospective food vendor.

"It really has to do with numbers," said Muller. "We don't have the critical mass of people at the satellite sites to make food operations profitable [for vendors]. We've even had the food trucks contacted to come by and some of our sites don't even have the volume to have a food truck to be viable."

When the trucks didn't pull enough profit, they pulled their services.

A La Carte Catering, based out of Culver City, and its fleet of food trucks once served the main campus in the 1970s and 1980s before it had a cafeteria, and still serve from time to time at football games and graduations. Herman Appel, A La Carte's founder, doesn't see any of his food trucks serving Bundy in the near future, but that's not for a lack of past attempts.

"We had a truck at Bundy for the longest [time]," said Appel. As recently as last year his food trucks attempted to serve Bundy for the first two months of the school year, he said. "We were there from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the afternoon." Echoing Muller, Appel says the numbers just aren't there. "There is not enough business. We'd love to put trucks there if it would generate revenue."

Greg Brown, director of facilities and planning, really put the numbers in perspective.

"Each of the satellite campuses has about 1,000 students on a given day," said Brown. "Whereas the main campus has between seven and eight thousand."

But even if all 1,000 students were to buy from a food truck, for example, what the students purchase is just as vital. "If 1,000 students are buying, and they each buy a soda, we still won't make it," said Appel.

Brown maintained that SMC is in the preliminary stages of working on a site expansion for the Bundy campus. The expansion will include more food choices but the logistics have not been worked out yet, as formal planning for this project has not yet begun.

The Bundy Campus and surrounding airport campus might have the shortest end of the stick, in that there are not many food options within walking distance. The Madison campus does have food options nearby and AET has the advantage of being located close to many media companies, including the MTV building. Gourmet food trucks serving these companies will often park on side streets within walking distance of AET, giving students access. These are not average food trucks; their menu options are diverse, serving up dishes like sushi and Korean barbecue. Since they do not have contracts with SMC, these trucks must stay on side streets and off of school property. However, a certain food truck can be found on AET grounds on some late afternoons despite regulations.

AET is about to undergo a site expansion and remodeling and a cafe will be added to the campus. The new facility will not have a kitchen to prepare fresh food, but students will be able to buy freshly made drinks and pre-prepared food. This expansion is slated for completion around 2013.