The majority of the independently-owned businesses in the Campus Hub, including Wicked Mexican, the Thai Kiosk, Little Asia and Reuben and Earl Sandwiches will be shut down by the university in September.
Tenants were notified late last year that the Campus Hub was due for demolition. They were invited earlier this year to apply for a position in the new dining area, branded as Campus Common, currently being constructed on the lawn in front of the library.
Every chain store was approved. Boost Juice, Sushi World, Taste Baguette and Presse Café – all large franchises – will be reopening in the Campus Common.
But the majority of independent businesses had their applications rejected with no explanation.
Cindy, manager of Reuben and Earl, told Grapeshot, ‘We only had two weeks to submit a business proposal and a rental offer … I thought that was weird. There was no reason at all we weren’t accepted. I feel like the university only had us submit the proposals to cover their backs.’
The approval process involved Senior Asset Manager Chris Mackinlay, who works for the university’s property department, and Angela Bonnefin of Bonnefin Property, an outsourced consultancy company.
Business owners, most of who have been operating in the Hub for over a decade, were informed of their rejection in a two-sentence email from Bonnefin:
“The University have advised us today that unfortunately you have not been selected as part of the offering for the Temporary Dining Hub at Macquarie University. We thank you very much for your submission and consideration of our project.”
Outlets contacted Bonnefin asking for the reasons behind their rejection, but she replied that it was the university’s decision. This left business owners wondering why the outsourced company was involved in the first place, especially in lieu of consultancy with students.
Sue and Memed, the co-owners of Wicked Mexican, already took a hit late last year when their other campus-based business, Mezze Café of Y3A, was shut down despite a groundswell of support from staff and students. A survey run by staff and students found that 98.9% of Y3A users wanted Mezze Café to stay. They were ignored.
‘We can’t lose [Wicked Mexican] too,’ says Sue. ‘We’re too young to retire. We don’t want to be forced on to the dole for the first time in our lives.’
They say the university has hinted that there may be another opportunity to relocate on campus, but recently Mackinlay has failed to return phone calls. The Senior Asset Manager has either cancelled or failed to turn up to the last four meetings set up between him and the tenants.
In a previous meeting, Mackinlay informed Sue and Memed that they were being replaced by a new Mexican outlet. Many business operators and campus staff approached by Grapeshot believe a chain store is set to move in, although this rumour has not been substantiated.
‘It’s unfair that they’re bringing in a new Mexican outlet when we’re willing and capable to continue business,’ says Sue.
Wicked Mexican serves up $5.50 nachos to suit a student budget, is one of the only outlets open on a Saturday, consistently expands opening hours to cater to people staying on campus late, strives to hire student casuals, and caters to vegan and vegetarian customers. Students shouldn’t expect such service from a chain store.
In a complaint letter sent to Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Tim Beresford, Sue wrote that they have always paid their rent on time, sometimes early, and cited their 20 years of experience in food retail.
‘The last 2 months have been the worst time in our lives in the 7 years we have been working here,’ Sue continued in the complaint letter. ‘This is completely unreasonable treatment especially as we have been good happy operators working with students and providing healthy food choices very popular on campus, including customers coming from commercial buildings surrounding the University.’
She has not received a reply.
Similarly, the manager of Thai Kiosk sent a petition signed by 1755 students in support of his business to Chris Mackinlay. He hasn’t heard back. Some of Thai Kiosk’s staff have been working on campus for nine years.
‘It’s a sad situation, people have families,’ he told Grapeshot. ‘It’s heartless. I think you should have been asked what you want.’
The only independently owned stores to stay are Lee’s Asian Food Court, which will have to slash menu options and staff in the new container-ship setup of the Campus Common spaces, and Doner Wrap, who are losing the other half of their business, Crispee Greens.
University owned outlets The Grill and Marxine’s Café (the latter has been running since 1972) will both be closed. A staff member at Marxine’s said employees had been told that they will be relocated to other cafes around campus.
Even the businesses who have been approved to move to the Campus Common say they have been shocked by the unprofessionalism and lack of consultancy on behalf of the university.
Undergraduate representative James Cummins successfully passed a motion at the first meeting of the newly-formed SRC calling for the university to be more transparent in regards to the business closures in the Campus Hub. The motion is yet to be acted on by the university.
Angela Bonnefin has repeatedly rejected Grapeshot’s requests for an interview. Chris Mackinlay has failed to answer emails and phone calls.
UPDATE: The university has responded to the following article with the following comment:
“We appreciate the tenure and service Campus Hub tenants have provided to the University. The University has maintained open communication with the tenants regarding the closure of The Hub for nine months prior to the release of the tender. The application for a lease within the Campus Commons was sent to all tenants in 2016, six months before a final decision was made.
Successful applicants have been selected based on set criteria that best meet the needs of the University’s staff and students, with all awarded purely on merit. All applications have been treated equally and carefully considered. Due to legal and commercial matters related to the existing C10a tenants and the incoming retailers, it is inappropriate to comment on any individual, personal and commercial situation.”
Words || Angus Dalton (Additional reportage by Tess Connery)
If you would like to support the independent businesses in the Campus Hub, send an email to Chris Mackinlay, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Tim Beresford, email@example.com, urging the university to reconsider rejecting existing food outlets.