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Wednesday, Oct 20, 2021

Growing Pains: Changes to Dining Options Raise Questions

The hours of operation for all food locations are posted around campus.
The hours of operation for all food locations are posted around campus.

Record‐breaking freshman classes continue to push the university’s dining resources to its limits.

After conducting a market match survey in the spring, Mercer’s administration took the feedback they received from interviews of faculty, staffs and students to heart when adding the two new dining options, said Ken Boyer, Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Services.

Einstein Bros. Bagels, a national bagel chain, opened a new location under Tarver Library. The Farmer’s Market, advertised as a healthy alternative to the Fresh Food Company, replaced Bear Rock Café.

The new installments garnered a lot of attention. Some of it is positive.

“There have never been many healthy options [here on campus] so it really adds something!” said Mercer junior, Sam Tarleton.

Others, however, are skeptical.

“[The Farmer’s Market] sounds promising. But I’m not sure if all their claims to local and organic are accurate. You have to wonder,” said Mercer sophomore Hannah Blair.

Some students aren’t pleased with the changes. Einstein’s is the only late‐night option on campus. On Sundays, Einstein’s is the only alternative to the Fresh Food Company.

“On‐campus dining should be open later on the weekends,” said freshman Linda Burt.

To address concerns, Boyer and Aaron Probst, Mercer’s food service director, spoke with Adam Ragusea’s Media Bootcamp class and answered questions about the new additions.

Probst began by addressing concerns with the Farmer’s Market and similarities with the Fresh Food Company.

“It’s on a totally different menu cycle [than the Fresh Food Company],” Probst said.

In addition, Probst stated the eatery would source as much product from Georgia as they could.

“That’s why we have the big Georgia wall plaque,” Probst said. “We are working on getting magnets that stick to the wall to show you guys which farms we are sourcing from.”

When asked, Probst was unable to give an amount of the food currently sourced from local farms.

Probst then tackled the larger issue of operating hours. Dining options are more available, Probst said. Einstein Bros. is open all week and late into the night. The UC

Food Court hours are more consistent. The meal equivalency plan covers full meals rather than dollar amounts. Chick‐fil‐a and Subway no longer serve breakfast. The Farmer’s Market is only open from 11‐3 p.m. on weekdays and closed on weekends.

Boyer said the hours may expand, possibly even extending to service during basketball games.

The emergence of Einstein Bros. left many wondering how Mercer Village original Jittery Joes would fare. A key part of the deal that brought Einstein Brothers to Mercer required the eatery to not offer its full menu.

Boyer confirmed this.

“We want everybody to succeed and thrive,” he said. “We are not trying to directly compete.”

Einstein Bros. understood Mercer’s requests. Manager Brittany Ramos admitted that “[selling espresso] would definitely heighten our sales,” but added that “we are a community. We don’t want to step on any toes.”

Mercer’s expansion has required the administration to work with dining services and Aramark, a customer service business in charge of supplying Mercer’s food, to expand dining options.

Probst and Boyer expressed a mutual wish that they had known about the new additions quicker than they were told. They both mentioned the Farmer’s Market in particular.

“We had a very short window from May 15 to August 18 to open [the Farmer’s Market],” Boyer said. “When we first put what we wanted to do down on paper, the contractor told us ‘Okay, we should be able to open that some time in mid‐October.’”

Both added that safety was not an issue. Inspectors were present throughout the processes. They even returned when parts finally arrived for the Mongolian grill during the first week.

“We take safety very seriously,” Boyer said.

In spite of the growing pains, Boyer and Probst confirmed crowding at the dining options have subsided. But future plans are fluid.

When asked if there were concrete plans for the future of Mercer’s food, Boyer mentioned that there is a 5‐7 year plan that will be “plugging into growth patterns.”

Without a deadline for a plan or a required statement of action, Boyer and Probst stressed that they are “in the phases of developing that plan.”

“Like anything, plans change over time . . . we are trying to strategically plan,” he said.


*Adam Ragusea’s Media Boot Camp classes contributed to this report.


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