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Wheels of Fortune
December 18, 2009 by Tonya Eckert '10, University Relations
Student-run businesses thrive on campus
The Bike Co-op, staffed by experienced
student mechanics, has been the
go-to place for bicycle repairs since the 1970s.
Photo Credit: John Solem, University Relations
When it comes to curbing late-night hunger, fixing bicycles, and designing witty flyers, student-run businesses fit the bill. "We don't necessarily have a boss, we're all co-managers-we're equal," declares Krysten Moore, co-manager at Sweets N' More, one of the eight student-run businesses on campus offering student workers paychecks as well as hands-on experience and a community of friends.
These nonprofits employ about 130 people and produce more than $700,000 in annual gross sales. Student employees share equally in responsibility and decision-making to ensure that budgets are balanced and customers happy.
"Students learn a lot in the classroom, but that's not always the most important thing," explains Rosemary Schmidt, director for the Center for Student Business (CSB). The CSB, funded by the Student Government Association, is what Schmidt calls an "oversight, training, and guidance office." Although student start-ups are not exclusive to UMass, Schmidt says that these businesses stand out because they don't have annual budget deficits.
Staying within budgets often requires active problem-solving. Student workers at Earthfoods Café turned a near loss into a win last year when they decided to offer catering services to campus groups to create extra sales. Not all of the student businesses are survival stories. Strong demand at Sweets led to lower prices. "We actually did really, really well last semester so we were able to re-price our menu," says Moore.
Three of the eight student-run businesses are in residential halls, providing students with late-night sandwiches, snacks, and frozen treats.
The other five businesses are scattered throughout the Student Union. People's Market, a natural foods store, implies reasonable prices and quality with their motto "Food for People, Not for Profit." It first opened in 1973, founded by two sophomores Ellen Gavin '76 and Gail Sullivan. Almost adjacent to the market is Earthfoods Café, serving up a variety of cafeteria-style vegetarian fare made daily by the café's co-managers.
Student mechanics fix two wheelers at the Bike Co-op; next door is Tickets Unlimited (also known widely as simply TIX), a behind-the-scenes enterprise, managing Campus Center vendors and selling tickets to campus events. Upstairs is Campus Design and Copy, a low-cost copy shop specializing in unique recycled paper gifts and various print and copy jobs.
Articles from the UMass Daily Collegian Featuring Student Businesses
People’s and University fight over YCMP, bottom lines
January 30, 2009 by Emily Reynolds, Collegian Staff
While the Your Campus Meal Plan (YCMP) has been a mainstay for University of Massachusetts students looking for an alternative to the dining commons, the People’s Market has struggled to get a piece of the action.
“For about two and a half years, we have been struggling to get YCMP, but Auxiliary Services has been adamant about not allowing us,” said Michael Kebede, an employee at the People’s Market.
The People’s Market has been at odds with Auxiliary Services and the administration since last fall, when a question included on the Student Government Association’s (SGA) election ballots asked if YCMP should apply to the student-run business.
The proposition passed by a large margin.
Since then, the business has created a YCMP task force purposed with dealing with the administration to try and make YCMP available there.
“We are just trying to find which people in the administration we need to talk to, to obtain YCMP and what we have to do, but we’re finding it hard to get through the Auxiliary Services,” said Amato Zinno, a member of the task force. “This is not a new battle. In the past, there have been other efforts.”
In addition to the ballot initiative, People’s Market staff members said the store has taken surveys of students who have overwhelmingly said that they would like to use their swipes at the store. But according to Kebede, the SGA is in favor of the People’s Market getting YCMP but cannot yet get past the process that actually decides.
“The People’s Market has come to us several times in the past to get YCMP, but we always say no for two reasons,” said Ken Toong, the Executive Director of Dining Services. “We consider it more like a convenience store, and we are trying to protect the financial integrity for the meal plan.”
According to Toong, YCMP is not available to convenience stores because of the cost structure and financial differences between convenience stores and dining places. It’s the reason stores at the dining halls do not have YCMP either. Toong said that it isn’t financially responsible.
“We support student-run businesses, but we have to make sure that we can cover our own overhead,” said Toong.
The employees at the People’s Market have a difference of opinion when it comes to Toong’s definition of “convenience store.”
“The administration says we should not have it because we are a convenience store, but we sell things that could make a meal, like bagels, coffee, and sandwiches,” said Zinno. “We have a lot more to offer than the Procrastination Station, which has YCMP, but we offer a wider selection of food.”
Kebede agreed, citing that most revenue for the business came from coffee and bagels, which also tops the sales at other outlets that do offer YCMP.
YCMP has become an important issue for People’s Market recently because of the financial situation that they are in.
“Last year we needed the YCMP,” said Kebede. “We have been losing money every year. We were sure YCMP would have helped pull us out of a mess.”
The People’s Market is sure that if they offered YCMP, more students would go there to eat because it would just be part of the meal plan instead of an out-of-pocket expense.
“The People’s Market has been struggling for the past few semesters, but we have been able to bounce back a bit recently,” said Zinno. “YCMP would help us out because we could open to a new market of people. It would make our business more sustainable and more profitable.”
Money is the issue for both. Unfortunately for People’s Market, what would help them financially may hurt Dining Services, something that the University is not willing to risk with the current economy.
Give Kale a Chance
February 25, 2008 by Andrea Murray, Collegian Correspondent
A man in a suit and tie stands at the counter of Earthfoods Café, and hands his large Tupperware container over the counter.
He asks only for a large serving of kale.
Kale? That dark green, leafy, sometimes tough relative of the cabbage family?
No, kale may not be the most respected vegetable on the planet, but at the University of Massachusetts and other places, it's becoming increasingly popular. A large serving of kale that takes up half of a plate only costs $1.50 at Earthfoods, and the café serves about 200 pounds of it each week. The health benefits pile up as big as the heaping servings there.
Kale is not a familiar vegetable to most, but it's easy to grow and support locally in New England. Kale is gaining a following among those concerned with the health of the planet and themselves.
Kale is a leafy green that descends from wild cabbage. It has been around for nearly 2,000 years. The Greeks and pre-Catholic Romans grew several varieties of kale. It comes from the vegetable family Brassica, which includes its better-known siblings cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts.
"People are really jazzed about local food," says Emily French, a BDIC major focusing on agriculture.
French, in collaboration with Adam Dole, has helped to run the organic kale farm, Common Wealth, on UMass property in South Deerfield. She estimates that in the fall, they collected between 120 and 250 pounds of kale per week to supply Earthfoods with local produce for as long as they could. Things went so well this past fall with Earthfoods that French's project is expanding this spring to provide onions, carrots, lettuce, beets, garlic and leeks. French admits to becoming a bit spoiled as a result.
"I don't really eat a lot of kale in the spring because now I've had really good local kale," says French.
Kale is a native vegetable to northern Europe and the British Isles, and has been an important vegetable to the British and Scots in the present and past. When World War II began, the "Dig for Victory" campaign was launched in Britain. Citizens were encouraged to plant essential crops in their gardens to provide their own food. Kale was chosen as one of the essential vegetables for this campaign because of its impressive nutritional value that complemented meager rations. After the war, kale faded into the diets of yesteryear.
Kale is considered to be one of the most highly nutritious vegetables because of its high vitamin content of A, B6, B1, B, C and E. It's a good source of iron, manganese, fiber, copper, folic acid, calcium and antioxidants. Kale has also been shown to have high levels of phytonutrients, which are natural chemicals in produce that may fight cancer. Kale has also been said to be a tumor deterrent. It has no cholesterol and a cup of the cooked greens only has 36 calories.
"It is extremely rich in iron and vitamins, it's beautiful to look at and I really love the taste of it," says Adam Dunetz of the Green Bean restaurant in Northampton.
Dunetz and his partner in life as well as business, Liz Karney, own the Green Bean restaurant, a two-month old breakfast and lunch café. Karney is a former UMass Earthfoods team member and she and Dunetz continue to share their love of kale at their budding business. One of the few, possibly only restaurants in the area with kale on their menu, Dunetz says that it has been a big surprise sensation among customers.
"Green Eggs is probably our best selling dish in the whole restaurant. We sell more kale than probably anything else on the menu," Dunetz confessed.
The name "Green Eggs" may not sound appetizing, but it certainly grabs attention. On the Green Bean menu, "Green Eggs and..." is a breakfast dish that consists of a choice of breakfast meat that accompanies three eggs, kale or collard greens, a spot of garlic, and a pinch of salt all blended together then scrambled in a pan and topped with Vermont cheddar cheese.
"I put it [kale] on [the menu] because how could Liz and I not?" Dunetz asked. "We eat so much kale in our own lives. It was sort of an experiment, and as it turns out, people are ravenous for kale."
Dunetz was also quick to cite the benefits of buying local. When the kale is bought locally it helps to support local farmers and the local economy. Besides, freshly- picked kale tastes a lot better than kale that has been sitting in a box for a week.
"I can say that about nine months out of the year we're going to be able to buy it locally," Dunetz says.
Unless you've tried kale at Earthfoods, the only other place you may have seen it was garnishing your plate at restaurants. Ornamental pink, purple and white kale is nice to look at, but is not as tasty as the leafy varieties.
The wide variety of kale makes for an interesting array of uses. Popular ways to prepare kale include raw and washed, steamed, blanched or sautéed. Certain types of kale like Tuscan kale are better suited for salads. Red Dino and curly kales are better as a side dish prepared to your liking. Kale can be used in soups, pasta tosses, salads or just alone. Cooked kale is great with balsamic vinegar and oil, tahini sauce or any preferred dressing.
So c'mon, what have you got to lose? Give kale a chance.
No boss, just Sweets N' More: OHill eatery offers many snacks
December 5, 2007 by Jessica Sacco, Collegian Correspondent
From plain view the Field Dormitory looks like nothing more than one of the many buildings scattered across campus. However, by taking the time to venture inside, one will be pleasantly surprised to find a small snack shop by the name of Sweets N'More.
This business has been around since about 1975 and was originally run by an outside vender not a part of the University. However, he then decided to give it up to the students, and with the help of the Center for
Student Business (CSB) and money provided by UMass, Sweets N' More has been run by students ever since.
There are currently 12 employees who run the shop, one consultant
and a bookkeeper. Everything is overseen by Rosemary Schmidt, the director of CSB. Unlike many other campus businesses, Sweets N' More has no hierarchy. Everyone works at the same level, essentially co-managing the place together.
"[Co-management is] great for respect. It's the best condition to
work in. You're more apt to share your ideas," said employee Kristin Filippelli, a senior.
Sweets N' More's employers do not like to follow the standard application when looking for new employees. In the personal interview, candidates are asked a series of serious and fun questions, so interviewers can really get to know who the applicant is. The more individual and unique the person appears, the better.
Once the current employers have decided who they will hire, they do what is called a "fake-out" interview. This is done by making their future employees participate in a ridiculous task, such as creating an advertisement for the shop only using forks and paper. They are then told that the best idea wins the open position. In reality, all members taking part in the activity already have the job - it's just a way for employers to break the ice.
Filippelli says the best part about working in a place like Sweets N'
More is the real world experience.
"It gives you a sense of how a real business works," she said.
The shop is open Sunday through Thursday from 7:30 p.m. to midnight. The menu consists of items ranging from the typical ice creams and cookies to the newly introduced chicken quesadillas, which have quickly become one of the most popular items.
Sweets N' More is now looking to expand into more than a simple snack shop. The goal is to make the shop into more of a late night dinner place by next semester. This will be done by bringing in more food like chicken fingers and french fries. Employers are also trying to bring in more people from all around campus. As of right now it is primarily students from the Field dorm and Orchard Hill Residential Area.
"We're very open to people outside [the dorm], and the food is good, so it's worth it," said Filippelli.
Greeno's offering hot service and food: Student-run sub shop has friendly feel
November 15, 2007 by Stephanie McPherson: Collegian Staff
Every day, thousands of students trudge along the lines in each of the University of Massachusetts Amherst's dining commons, lamenting their lack of choices and diversity. They just don't know where to look.
Since 1973, Greeno Sub Shop, a completely student run co-op located in the basement of Greenough residential building, has been providing students with new options in a laid-back atmosphere.
Liana Rasmusen, a senior who has worked at Greeno for five semesters, said that the comfort level has to do with "not having to deal with anyone who could … get you in trouble … [it has] a home feel rather than a business."
With tables covered with boxes of Trivial Pursuit questions and puzzles, couches to lounge in, and a big painted wall bearing the word "Greeno," customers automatically feel at ease. Each employee is a co-manager of Greeno, as is the case in all student run businesses at UMass, so there are no overbearing bosses to deal with, keeping the mood light and fun. Music is always playing, usually from employees' iPods, and enjoyable banter between co-managers and patrons can be heard from the counter.
"A vast majority [of customers] are regulars," said Ben Janas, also a senior.
This feeling of familiarity allows customers to relax while they enjoy one of Greeno's many subs, each of which was created by co-managers, past and present.
Sophomore Sherezad Contractor said she enjoys eating at Greeno because "it's friendlier, cheaper and tastes better than Blue Wall, [and] people working at Greeno are students themselves," so it makes hanging out more relaxed.
Other patrons, like L.T. Costin, said that Greeno is a "quaint little nook [that is a] nice change from the DCs."
Much of the laid-back atmosphere comes from the student-run aspect of Greeno's. There are different committees to handle different aspects of the business. These committees range from maintenance and purchasing to hiring and steering, which is the "big picture" committee, according to James Burbidge, another co-manager.
The hiring committee has the task of sorting through the hopefuls to determine who will fit in best with the Greeno community. Kitchen training isn't necessary, because "there are so many niches … we need all sorts of majors and interests to get all the jobs done," said Rasmusen.
A variety of interests comes in handy when it comes time for elections. Each employee must run for and be elected to at least two committees.
"If you're not in a committee, you're not really that involved," said Regina Parkinson, a sophomore who only started working at Greeno this semester. "It's only a little bit intimidating" to campaign in front of the existing committee members, she joked.
Each week, all the committees get together to discuss issues that may have cropped up during the week. They "deal with things as a group, things that affect us all," said Burbidge. This way, each co-manager stays informed about the business.
Greeno does not stand alone, though. There are seven other student-run businesses on campus, and they all work intimately with each other through the Board of Student Business (BOSB). BOSB brings together two representatives from each of the eight student businesses with two undergraduate consultants from the Center for Student Businesses, a consult group that aides Greeno and the rest of the co-ops on campus.
At these meetings, they discuss any problems the businesses might be facing. According to the Board of Student Businesses section on the Web site of another student-run business, the People's Market, "in the past, these issues have been privatization of the University, the student businesses as a recognized learning community on campus, as well as ways we can unify the businesses and reach out to the campus, the local co-ops and the co-operative movement at large."
Greeno Sub Shop and the rest of the student business community is a tight knit group, and that comfort and compatibility can be felt throughout their shop.
"I'm glad I work here, because I met so many people I wouldn't have otherwise [met]," said Parkinson.
Burbidge agreed, saying that the co-managers really become friends rather than co-workers.
"We are … just fantastic people," said Janas.
Greeno Sub Shop is worth a hike up the hill, and with a homey feel, a fun atmosphere, and the official motto of "hot people serving hot food," how could you resist?