Could an efficient community college food vendor system squeeze out local businesses?

Falafelicious has the contract to provide food services at Pierce College in Los Angeles.
Falafelicious has the contract to provide food services at Pierce College in Los Angeles.

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This story has been updated.

On Wednesday night the Los Angeles Community College District board of trustees voted to approve a single food vendor for its nine campuses, taking a step to replace an ad hoc food vendor system that allows campuses to hire different companies to run cafeterias, cafes, food trucks and vending machines.

The board vote to hire Pacific Dining Food Service Management as the food contractor has some L.A. small businesses that serve the college campuses up in arms.

“It’s going to take me out of business,” said Ofir Bass before the vote. He's the owner of Falafelicious, the food company contracted by Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley to run the campus cafeteria and a food truck.

He said he’s baffled by the district’s move to go with an out of town company that would put him out of business.

“I do have 20 employees as well, [and] most of them have families," Bass said. "They’re all going to lose their jobs."

He’s invested about $60,000 of his own money to improve the campus facilities and closed two storefront restaurants to devote himself full time to the Pierce operation, he said, and he pays the college a percentage of sales, which averages about $10,000 each month.

The contract with Pacific Dining has the potential to make big changes at each of the district’s campuses: L.A. Mission College, Pierce College, L.A. Valley College, Los Angeles City College, East Los Angeles College, L.A. Trade-Technical College, L.A. Southwest College, West L.A. College, and L.A. Harbor College.

While the move could mean businesses like Falafelicious would have to leave campuses, district administrators said, bringing one food vendor could mean increased revenues for the campuses and improved food services for students.

“The bigger issue here is, how do we get a consistent quality of service and food to all of our students across the district?" said L.A. Community College District Vice Chancellor Bob Miller. "And that’s something that does not exist today."

The ten-year contract with Pacific Dining would require the company to give 7 percent of gross sales and 10 percent of outside catering sales to the campus on which it operates. Miller said the company told the district those fees could add up to $600,000 over a five-year period at some of the larger campuses, like East L.A. College.

Miller said the new contract would allow each of the campuses to keep a current vendor if they so choose and exemptions have been granted to part of food vendor services at the colleges that have culinary programs: L.A. Mission College, L.A. Harbor College, and L.A. Trade Tech.