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Paces reopens with new OneCard vendor status

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The beginning of March came with the long-awaited reopening of student-run Paces Cafe. On March 12, the cafe resumed operating at full capacity after undergoing an audit, which was resolved in late February.

According to a previously published Phoenix article, Paces was under audit because of its old bookkeeping practices and for accepting cash as a form of payment. The cafe reopened as a newly authorized OneCard vendor, a development that has been a longstanding desire of students.

Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano explained why Paces was added to the OneCard program.

After the audit was completed it was determined that solely accepting OneCard would be best for the program as it would make access and tracking the simplest for all involved to the program,” he said.

Raffaella Luzi Stoutland ’17, the Head Director of Paces, explained what spurred the decision to become a OneCard vendor.

“The biggest challenge was just competing with all the other businesses that were put on the OneCard. While before we were competing almost on the same level with them because we were both taking cash, once they could accept Points we were pretty far behind in terms of marketability. We weren’t very appealing to people who could use their Points elsewhere,” she said.

The move to OneCard, as observed by barista Arka Rao ’18, has proved to be successful in attracting customers. Rao, who has worked at Paces every spring since his freshman year, noticed a significant change.

The OneCard has definitely brought more traffic as a whole. My sophomore year as a barista was certainly less busy than now. The first day I worked this semester, March 12, was somewhat busy but manageable since there’s two baristas during each shift now, and the options were restricted to only $10 deals. However, my second day, March 20, was super busy for almost the entire time. The other Monday night barista and I made more drinks combined than I’ve personally ever seen in one night,” he said.

Paces’ status as a OneCard vendor is tied to the fact that they no longer accept cash or credit cards for purchases. Coschignano briefly mentioned the change made in regards to this restriction.

“Transactions as a part of Paces opening are set to a one-time dollar limit per transaction, and that limit may change based on activity and special events,” he said.

This alludes specifically to the temporary practice of capping transactions at $10 upon the initial reopening. The cap was comparable to Essie’s Late Nite Snack option, where a meal swipe can be used in transaction up to a maximum of $7. However, Paces’s system was organized such that any transaction made would be an automatic deduction of $10 off of one’s Swat Points, and that unlike Essie’s, meals cannot be used nor could the transaction cap be changed.

“Basically, you can only swipe $10 at a time. That’s the biggest change for our consumers. We’ve set up combos that people can choose from in order to reach the $10 value. It’s the same menu, it’s now just that the way you buy from it is a bit more restricted,” Stoutland explained.

With all of the positivity surrounding Paces’ move to OneCard, there are challenges that may befall the cafe. For example, since Paces exclusively accepts Swat points, the cafe runs the risk of being inaccessible to students when they start running low on Points during the latter part of a semester. Stoutland does acknowledge the possibility that issues like this that may arise.

“One challenge that we thought about what people off campus who don’t have a meal plan: could they come to Paces at all? It’s not in the books yet to accept cash at all at the moment, but you can always put cash onto your OneCard. Just like you could before, you can load your card with money. The challenge would be to remind people that that is an option if they really want to come to Paces and are out of points,” she said.

The $10 price cap, too, is an issue of salience as Stoutland explained.

“The price cap is also a challenge, both for us and for customers, since people don’t always want to spend $10. For us, it does skew consumer trends a little bit because we don’t necessarily know what people want to order; we only know what they would order if they had to spend $10. The challenges can be overcome though,” she said.

However, the price cap, though it presented challenges, was the most realistic for the cafe to cover their costs.

“Our main idea was to try to cover food costs as best as possible while giving the highest range of options with the cap. Five dollars or $10 were our two options; with $5, it doesn’t quite cover the cost of sandwiches in the real world. While we used to charge $5 in cash, once we got the OneCard it was important for us to actually charge what the food item was worth, and it’s closer to $6 or $7 … We really wanted something based on our milkshake price that could either be singles or doubles. With $10, you could really get items that evened out pretty well … it was our first try, so it’s not perfect,” Stoutland explained.

The cap was not long-lived. Paces was open for eight days with the $10 cap before the announcement was made that all items on the menu were now $5. Rao observed that students seemed to be reacting positively to the switch.

“The change to $5 options (and the free drink refills) seems to be a popular decision and a good incentive for sure. I think it’s a good change and a sign of the hard work our managers have been putting in, and these decisions have been marked with successes already,” he said.

Another question was raised concerning the type of Points to be used at Paces. The cafe only accepts Swat Points, meaning that it has the technical designation as an off-campus vendor. Stoutland explained that this was the best option for the direction of Paces.

The thing with this is that the Ville [Swat] Points allows us to be autonomous. Points on campus are for dining services because of the way they’re processed and because of the fund they’re coming out of. Because we don’t want to be dining services, we want to be something independent, and we want to remain student run and student involved, we’re on the Ville [Swat] Points,” she said.

The future of Paces looks bright, as student workers maintain positive outlooks on the new changes. Henry Han ’20, one of Paces’ two chefs, spoke about his expectations for future service.

“Since switching to the OneCard, we have had a drastic increase in customers. As we advertise more and as all the workers become acclimated to the new system, I expect that our food will be served faster and will be of even higher quality. I also think our customer base will grow a lot more,” he said.

Rao, too, believes that Pace’s new format does good for the business and maintains that challenges can be overcome.

“I definitely think the current format of Paces has a lot of advantages. Having a second barista (shoutout Sergio) really helps us be efficient with drinks, which are turning out to be some of the most popular items on the menu. The most salient challenge that I can imagine would be dealing with the increased traffic, but I believe it’s in our capacity to handle more customers than before. I’m really happy for the team, especially the managers, since Paces is already super popular and I hope it stays that way. It’s great to see the results of everyone’s hard work so soon. I’m looking forward to working the rest of the semester!” he said.

From a management perspective, Stoutland spoke brightly about Paces and what it means to those who frequent it.

Students are really excited to be working at Paces, to have Paces again as an option. I think it’s mostly been morally really great, so even if management is still working out kinks on how to stay open and what to do about that, at least we have it [Paces],” she said.

With the remaining six weeks in the semester, Paces will learn how to navigate its new OneCard transaction policy, as well as the changes made to the menu and format of service. Although it seems that the new additions have been received smoothly, it remains to be seen if the cafe will maintain the increased levels of traffic it has been experiencing.

 

Pending Audit Results, Paces Cafe Slated to Reopen

in Around Campus/News by

Paces Cafe, which has been closed since the end of the fall 2016 semester due to an auditing process conducted by the Business Office to investigate Paces’ business practices, is expecting to reopen after spring break as a member of the OneCard Program.

According to Raffaella Luzi Stoutland ’17, the Head Director of Paces, this audit has been ongoing throughout the spring semester and will be completed by Feb. 27.

“[The audit is due to] issues the Business Office had with the handling of cash at Paces, with bookkeeping practices, and with receipt tracking. … [Paces] is basically undergoing some investigations into the practices currently, but more importantly, putting in processes that we can follow in the future,” Stoutland said.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Gregory Brown confirmed Wednesday, Feb. 15 that Paces is now currently on the right track of reopening.

“We had a very productive meeting [Monday] afternoon with the Paces leadership team, and I believe we’re on a good path to a successful re-opening of Paces later this semester,” said Brown.

The Paces staff has been working with the college administration since the end of last semester to work out the trajectory of the cafe. Stoutland met with Brown this Tuesday, and discussed future plans as well as the relation of the cafe to the Visioning Process Report of the college.

The report, released this month, asserts that “strategies will be implemented through capital planning projects” to help “inspire students to pursue their passions and provide support their efforts to achieve a reasonable equilibrium between academic and co-curricular pursuits.”

Stoutland elaborated on Paces’ plan of reopening after spring break.

“We’re looking at a tentative opening after spring break. We are reworking our financial and accounting procedures and we are hoping to set up some long term plans that integrate Paces into the Visioning Process of Swarthmore,” Stoutland said.

Part of these new financial procedures is the authorization of the use of OneCard at the cafe. To become part of the newly incorporated OneCard program this year, businesses must meet specific financial standards in order to be a part.

“Paces asked to join the program, and as a result of their request, we are completing a review of their business practices.  During the course of the review, we identified several areas of concern regarding the need to improve their business practices, and we are working with Paces to resolve the open issues,” said the Director of Auxiliary Services, Anthony Coschignano.

According to Coschignano, any merchant looking to join the program must undergo a successful review process, and agree to specific record-keeping and data security standards.

In order to meet these standards, Stoutland and the Paces leadership have been working with the OneCard office and administration to present business plans and financial projections. After a semester of screening, Paces will be accepting SwatPoints on OneCard in the near future.

“It looks like the only way we would open will be on OneCard without taking out any cash or credit … should we open after spring break, it will be on OneCard, and in the future, Paces will probably be accepting OneCard,” Stoutland said.

According to Stoutland, the administration has been supportive in the audit and the OneCard authorization, though sometimes effective communication has been lacking.

“It looks like Paces though should probably have more direction coming from dining services and OneCard and coming from the business office. So it’s not that we haven’t had support, I just think that the way that the support has been structured hasn’t always been the most productive … Mostly it’s just been miscommunications and circumvent[ive] communications … so the support is there, but it just really wasn’t reaching us,” said Stoutland.

As a member of the 2016 orientation committee, Luke Barbano ’18 suggested that students would want Paces to be on OneCard during their OneCard briefing, and he was surprised with the administration’s perplexing astonishment. As a frequenter of Paces, he also witnessed the tedious process that Paces had to go through to get the authorization.

The OneCard office has made Paces go in order to demonstrate its viability as a profitable enterprise (i.e. requesting seemingly endless revisions of business plans, countless budget proposals,  profit projections that were nearly impossible to make, etc.) It seemed like an unnecessary number of hoops to jump through given Paces’s seemingly low stakes (it’s not a multinational corporation) and the ease with which OneCard capabilities can be granted (I’m sure there’s some bureaucratic administrative red tape to deal with but it’s not rocket science),” wrote Barbano in his email.

Although Paces is an on-campus organization, its position on the OneCard will be with SwatPoints, the Points that are used in the Ville, rather than regular Points which are used at other on-campus dining options. This structural difference is because Paces is run by students rather than the college’s dining services.

“We are kinda in this weird limbo place where we are clearly part of the Swarthmore College [community], … but they’re sort of treating us like an outside partner of Swarthmore College,” Stoutland said.

Stoutland further explained Paces’ awkward position as a student-run business on campus and how that aspect has impacted on its OneCard authorization.

“We’re student-run, and in that sense, we aren’t part of the dining services, so we wouldn’t be part of the Points and meal points. We’ll be part of the new part of OneCard, but we’re also not exactly an established business, so there’s a lot of checks and balances they wanted us to go through that I don’t think the other businesses went through,” Stoutland said.  

Despite the long process of authorizing it, Stoutland believes that the OneCard is a good addition because it makes the business more accessible.

“[We] struggle to keep prices as low as possible, and much lower than they would’ve been in the normal market, because we really want people to have access to Paces, and OneCard is really the solution that no matter what someone’s personal finances are, they can still experience the space where all students should be experiencing, and the food is really good,” Stoutland said.

When asked about Paces’ next step, Stoutland was very optimistic and said the biggest focus for Paces’ right now was to reopen as soon as possible.

“We’re looking at what accounting practices we’re putting in place […] in terms of where we get our food and where we get our supplies, also sustainability practices, a lot of our stuff is compostable so we’re just double-checking that everything can be composted. Our main goal is to reopen as soon as possible this semester, like I said, soon still means probably weeks so, and then to figure out what it means for Paces to be open in the long term as well,” said Stoutland.

Luke Barbano believes that OneCard is also going to help Paces compete with other restaurants and cafes on campus and in the Ville with the growing competition with other restaurants and cafes on campus and in the Ville, since most of them already have OneCard.

“One only needs to look to the Ville merchants to see how OneCard has dramatically increased their business traffic. […] Given the student body’s widespread enthusiasm for Paces, the nearly excessive number of Points that accompany any of the currently offered meal plan options, the cafe’s convenience, and its charming novelty, it’s reasonable to expect that Paces would experience a similar boost in business. They will make a lot of money,” Barbano said.

After a nearly clear path to reopening, managers at Paces and some students see the cafe as a viable place of business and one for students to enjoy on campus given that the OneCard becomes a part of the cafe’s program.

Impacts of OneCard changes felt on and off campus

in Around Campus/News by

Fall 2016 marked the first semester of expanded meal plans that include Swat Points for use in the Ville. For the first time in Swarthmore’s history students now have the option to use their meal plans to eat at Aria, Bamboo Bistro, Dunkin Donuts, Hobbs Coffee, Occasionally Yours, Renato Pizzeria, Vicky’s Place, and the Co-Op giving students more freedom than in previous years to choose where they eat. First year students, however, have less freedom than the rest of the student body. This restriction, decided without student input, has drawn some criticism from members of the student body. The changes have also increased business for Ville vendors, as it is easier than ever for students to access the restaurants in the borough of Swarthmore.

For students, especially first years, the OneCard has brought wider dining choices as well as some challenges. The four plans having varying proportions of meals to Points, points for use at on-campus locations, and Swat Points, points for use at off-campus locations. Some plans have more meals than points, and others with less meals but more points. First years have only two meal plan options, the SWAT Plan and the Garnet Plan. The SWAT plan has unlimited meal swipes that can be used at Sharples and Essie Mae’s, as well as 150 Points and 150 Swat Points. The Garnet Plan gives students 275 meals per semester as well as 300 Points and 200 Swat Points. Towards the end of the semester, some students began to run out of Points and Swat Points. For first year student Aditya Jayakrishnan ’20, staying on campus for Fall Break was a large factor in running out of Points.

“Thrice a week last semester, I didn’t have enough time to get to Sharples and back for lunch, … [so] I resorted to just eating at the coffee bar instead. That, coupled with the occasional trip to the Ville, and the fact that I had to stay on campus over Fall Break and use my Points in the Ville and at Essie’s meant that my Points were gone soon after Fall Break,” he said.

Jayakrishnan was on the Garnet Plan, the most point-heavy plan available to first year students. For the second semester, first years have the same two options, potentially preventing them from choosing the meal plan that would best suits their needs. The administration, represented by Dean of Students Liz Braun, Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown said that first years have always had the least choice in meal plans, and that the Sharples experience was important for for first years.

“We want Sharples to remain the main point of contact for first year students,” Braun said. The administration also cited budget concerns and stability as reasons for keeping first years limited to two different plans, as successfully operating Sharples hinges on being able to accurately estimate the number of students at each meal. While first years were more limited than other class years, the administration noted that there was an increase in flexibility for all class years in terms of dining options with the addition of Swat Points, as well as that the plans are blocked for the entire semester rather than weekly.

The decision for first year students to not be able to access to have all the plans in the second semester has limited students. The decision mirrors the college’s housing policy, which is that first year students are required to live on campus.

Ming Ray Xu ’20 switched from the Swat Plan to the Garnet Plan, and felt that students should be allowed more autonomy in choosing their meal plans.

“The meal plan is unnecessarily restricted, a recommendation from the college would be fine. I understand that the administration wants us to not starve at the end of the semester, but I have access to data about how many meals I eat in a semester, the OneCard system lets you see that,” he said. Students can access information about their balances, including number of remaining meals, Points, and Swat Points by going to the OneCard center on The Dash. With this information available, students, including first years, have access to the knowledge they need to select the meal plan that best suits their habits for the following semester.

In addition to giving students more options for dining, the OneCard has had effects on Ville vendors as well. The ability to use Points in the Ville makes off-campus eateries more economically accessible, and restaurants in Swarthmore have noticed a considerable uptick in business from students. Dunkin’ Donuts employee Manmeet Kaur estimates that the coffee and doughnut shop has about 130 dollars in OneCard transactions on an average weekday.

“It was pretty consistent throughout the semester … and [we have] 20 times, 30 times more students than what we used to get,” said Richardson. The expansion of the meal plan into the Ville has also increased social interaction between students and members of the Ville.

“I’m very happy with the college actually taking an interest in working with merchants, it’s a win-win for everybody […] it’s not a dollar and cents thing to me as much as it is adding to the vibrancy […] of the downtown community […] it adds to the character of the town, having more students here,” Richardson continued. The new meal plans have served as a bridge between the college community and the greater Swarthmore community and has made it easier for students to break the so-called Swat bubble. Merchants in the Ville have not only noticed the increase in students, but are also learning more about their purchase patterns.

“Our most popular items are deli [items] […] sandwiches […] prepared foods […] snacks and beverages.” She went on to say that the Co-Op “has begun to have active discussions about ways to offer a premium hot pizza at the Co-Op,” said Dawn Betts, an employee at the Co-Op. The potential for the Co-Op to expand their options shows both that the OneCard has had a considerable effect on students making purchases in the Ville as well as vendors’ interest in being a part of student life.

However, the pattern of students primarily purchasing foods that are pre-cooked or pre-prepared contrasts with the vision the administration has for New PPR. The possibility of a new plan just for students in New PPR would have less meals and more points than current meal plans since the dorm includes plans for kitchens. Braun indicated that she envisioned smaller communities within the residence hall where students would still eat communally.

The OneCard and the new meal plans have been met with popularity by both students and merchants, with the chief complaint coming from students who cannot access the full flexibility of the plans. Minor changes to the meal plans are expected from the college as more data on how, when, and where plans are used is collected from its first year of use. OneCard’s successful roll out and implementation have had clear benefits for both students and the town of Swarthmore.

Deliciously Yours, Just Bring OneCard

in Campus Journal by

Over last semester, eating in the Ville for my reviews has become one of my favorite things to do. As a self-proclaimed homebody, I’m far more likely to go to Sharples for its convenience and comfort than I am to venture out to try a new restaurant in the Ville. Every other week, I have discovered something new in the town of Swarthmore that has enhanced my experience as a first-year student. On my trip to Occasionally Yours, I considered that this meal was likely to be the last one I ate in the Ville with the purpose of writing a Phoenix review. The stakes were high for the restaurant, and I was yet to be disappointed by a meal in the Ville.

The restaurant is bright, and the natural light let in by the large storefront window is enhanced by the white furniture inside. The walls are painted a similar bright white on the bottom two-thirds, but a shelf serves as a bold transition to deep-green. As I sat in Occasionally Yours and looked around the room, I felt as if I was not in a restaurant, but rather having meal in someone’s home. The deep hue of the top portion creates the same cozy vibe as the living room in my grandparent’s home, and the items sitting on the shelf made me feel as if I had been transported back to a childhood memory. The family photos displayed next to vintage-appearing appliances created a warm ambiance found at the intersection of an old farmhouse and modern design. The home-ish atmosphere was amplified by the ease at which patrons held conversations across the small dining room, which holds two rows of tables on the sides of the restaurant that were too close together. Despite the annoyance of bumping into the tables while getting in and out of my seat, I appreciated the cozy atmosphere that the furniture arrangement provided. A basket of children’s books in the window indicated that children were welcome in the restaurant, and seeing my sister’s favorite titles reminded me of home. Casual yet classic, crowded and comfortable, the contradictions in Occasionally Yours provide an ambiance that is inviting as well as informal.

Food is at the core of any dining experience, and Occasionally Yours delivers on the unwritten but universal promise to serve a good meal that is at the nexus of the food service industry. Its menu features both basic staples as well as certain adventurous specials, from grilled cheese to meatloaf to lasagna, many will find that Occasionally Yours has their favorite meal from growing up, but that it takes few culinary risks as well. The Carolina pulled pork sandwich, a popular special, was a pleasant surprise. My expectations for barbeque decrease as the latitude increases, but the sandwich was warm and tender. Sweet flavors permeated the meat as I had my preconceived notions of northern pulled pork gently shattered. The French bun that enveloped the pork was crispy on the outside but was fluffy and soft on the inside, adding additional textures that made the sandwich a multidimensional dish. I had potato salad on the side, but its cool flavors and tangy undertones turned it into a main event. Celery intermingled with the soft chunks of potato and provided a much needed crunch. The potato salad was a perfect companion to the pulled pork as its savory flavors complimented the sandwich but its cool temperature and flavor notes made it a unique part of the meal.  

To complete my meal, I drank lemonade and had a pastry for dessert. The lemonade was sweet and light, but was almost underwhelming. The close border between refreshing and boring was just enough to remind me of summer, but the flavors were not powerful enough to make me yearn to have hot weather again. A strawberry crumb bar was the last part of the meal, and the soft doughy bottom overpowered the strawberry that peeked its way out from under the crumb top. The dessert had good flavors that were overpowered by an amount of bar that was not balanced by a fair proportion of strawberry and crumb. The meal served at Occasionally Yours was well made, and delivered on my expectation of a hearty meal.

The experience provided by Occasionally Yours is slightly cramped but is welcoming and a good place to take friends to get comfort food at the end of a long week. Their meals are tasty, and the individual dishes provide a range of flavors that are both appetizing and interesting. Just a short walk past the train station, the restaurant is an inviting way to add more variety into one’s dining choices while staying in one’s culinary comfort zone. Occasionally Yours has good food and a comfortable atmosphere and is a great spot to get a meal, but is the restaurant version of your childhood bedroom: you would be missing out if you stayed there your whole life and never branched out, but it’s really good to go back occasionally.

Endless Possibilities, Aisle One

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

They say ignorance is bliss. They’re wrong. I’ve been at Swarthmore for nearly four months and I’m here to tell you, that when I went to the Co-Op for the first time on a sunny afternoon in late November and, rid of my ignorance, I experienced true bliss. There’s something magical about the Co-Op. I didn’t realize how large it was from just seeing it from the outside, and was amazed to see a grocery store — I had imagined something of an earthy corner store. As I walked down the aisles, I realized that despite not being a restaurant, the Co-Op has ambiance. The lighting is bright, but still romantic enough that you will fall in love with the refrigerator full of fancy cheese. The aisles are cozy and the foods stocking the shelves beam radiance and joy. The ice cream lines part of the side wall and filled me with a unique mix of hunger and regret. The favorite dessert of our vice president and esteemed Delawarean, Joe Biden, has just been sitting in the Co-Op waiting to be purchased with my leftover Swat Points. I wondered how I could have missed everything that the Co-Op has to offer, from my favorite grocery items like ice cream to prepared foods like sushi and paninis. The breadth of options gives the Co-Op a unique vibe that feels like the world’s possibilities are endless.

As a very serious amateur food critic, I had internally debated the merit of reviewing the Co-Op. I realized that it was not a restaurant, but I had heard excellent things about their paninis. I wondered, if an establishment sold soap and birthday cards in addition to their food, did it fit the criteria for this series? I wondered, until I ate. I had a panini, cleverly named “The Gobbler of Fire”. All of the Co-Ops signature paninis and sandwiches have witty names, and would be more accurately named pun-inis. From ordering the Gobbler, a sandwich with turkey, arugula, red onions, a balsamic sauce made in-house, and provolone cheese, to receiving it, I spent nearly ten minutes waiting for my lunch. Well worth the wait, the Gobbler of Fire is delicious. The turkey is savory and exceeded my expectations in terms of its flavor and overall quality. The red onions gave the sandwich tang that was complimented well by the honey balsamic sauce. The panini was what I really want Thanksgiving to taste like. It had warm flavors that work together to provide a layered experience. I personally rank turkey as my least favorite deli meat, but the Co-Op transforms it from an overrated meat into an eating event well worth the walk from campus.

In addition to prepared foods perfect for any meal of the day, the Co-Op is the best place to stock up on snacks. When I saw the pepperoni sitting under the glass at the deli counter, I thought I was having anticipatory meat sweats. It turned out I had just been wearing my coat indoors for too long, but nonetheless, I was ready to have some quality pepperoni in my life. Much of the Co-Op’s meat, including the pepperoni, comes from Applegate Farms, a company whose meat is antibiotic free, GMO free, rBGH free, organic, and grass-fed. While the benefits of some of those specifications is debatable, the meat at the Co-Op is delicious and seems to match the progressive tastes of the Swarthmore clientele. Upon arriving back at my dorm and opening up the meat I had purchased, I was pleased. The pepperoni has the perfect overtones of heat and the classic zesty taste of the pork and beef combination. I also picked up hummus and pita chips while at the Co-Op, and was highly impressed with the hummus carried by the Co-Op. Coming in several flavors, the garlic variety might border on too garlic-y for some, but I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as too much garlic.

The Co-Op is a great place to get lunch, dinner, snacks, and anything in between. It’s also good for getting non-food items like shampoo. The versatility of the Co-Op is what makes it one of the best uses of Swat points.  Not only is it possible to get a hot lunch to take back to campus, but you can also get peanut butter and other basics without having to go all the way to Target or have a friendly relative send them through the mail. The Co-Op is by far the most useful addition to the OneCard. Although it offers a very limited menu of cooked food, the wide variety of other items and the ability to stock up on items like fresh vegetables and assorted cheeses means that the Co-Op is not just a store. The Co-Op is an institution that has inspired my culinary optimism and given me both the snacks and the hope to get through the rest of the semester.

Students adapt to changes in meal plan

in News by

As October comes to a close, Swarthmore students find themselves amidst mid-semester exams and increased academic pressures. Students of all class years learn a necessary balancing act of juggling schoolwork, extracurriculars, and social lives, — all while trying to find time to sleep. However, this semester added another element to this balancing act: new meal plans.

The Fall 2016 semester marked the start of the new meal plan system. The most notable of these meal plan changes was the increase in Points, used at on-campus food vendors, and the addition of Swat Points, which students may use at participating merchants in the Ville: Aria, Hobbs, Bamboo Bistro, Dunkin Donuts, Occasionally Yours, Renato’s Pizza, Vicky’s Place, and the Swarthmore Co-Op.

Anthony Condo, director of OneCard services, maintains that this aspect of the system has been fruitful based on student commentary.

Based on our initial feedback from students and members of the community, the program has been a big success, and is helping to support local businesses while providing students with a variety of dining options off campus,” Condo said.

The way in which meal swipes were distributed has also changed. Whereas before meal swipes were issued on a weekly basis, they are now issued in a semester block, including an unlimited option. First-years are limited in their first semester to either the default plan, which is the unlimited meal swipe SWAT plan with $150 Points and $150 Swat Points, or the 275 meal block GARNET plan with $300 Points and $200 Swat Points. Plans increase in respective point values as the number of block meals decrease, but the overall value of the meal plan stays constant across plans.

In addition to the new point and meal system, OneCard also created Garnet Cash, an option available to students whereby they can load money onto the card and subsequently use the card as a debit card. They would be used in lieu of Points or Swat Points should one run out of either. Unlike the point services, Garnet Cash balances carry through the entirety of the school year. Despite attempts by the OneCard Office to publicize all the features of OneCard, many students are confused about the purpose of Garnet Cash.

In regards to the actual plans themselves, Sam Wallach Hanson ’18 touches on what is new.

“To me, the main differences are that we have many more Points, and we have the option to use them off-campus, which is huge. And now, Essie’s only has swipes for this Late Night Snack period where they use to have swipes in between meal periods,” he said.

Wendy Wu ’19 expressed concerns about the differences, in particular about the new Points system, in that students are no longer able to see their Point balances upon swiping. This leads to issues with budgeting should students be unaware of their balances before or after swiping.

The Swat Points initiative was implemented in an attempt to deal with the gradual increase in student population size; with students having the option to go off campus, crowding in Sharples, in essence, should lessen.

In many aspects, this theory holds. Both Wu and Wallach Hanson make more use of their Swat Points due to having more at their disposal, as is the case with many upperclassmen. However, they also express that issues have ultimately arisen as a result of the changes regarding both Points and Swat Points.

“I love the off campus point option; I think it’s really great to be able to use meal points in off campus areas. But at the same time, with the increase of Points and the unlimited meal plan, it’s made it so that there are absurdly long lines at the Science Center Coffee Bar, at Kolhberg, and at Sharples, and at Essie’s. I feel like it hasn’t necessarily done a great job with fixing the issue,” Wallach Hanson said.

Wu describes the difficulty of increased student presence in off campus food venues, with long lines and crowds at places like Bamboo Bistro and Hobbs where there never used to be. Kennedy Kings ’20 is wary of these recent developments, stating that it seems that the college, instead of fixing the issue with overcrowding, is instead opting to move students around.

In regards to budgeting points values and meal swipes, first-years especially are facing challenges. The most pressing one is a lack of knowledge of their point balances. Many are finding themselves severely lacking in Points and Swat Points because of this, leading to poor budgeting habits.

“I switched to the GARNET plan in the beginning of the semester, so that I’d have more Points, and even then, I’m still running out. I didn’t really budget them in the beginning because I figured that $300 in Points would be enough to get me through the entire semester,” said Ariana Hoshino ’20. “I also thought I’d be going off campus to the Ville more, which I haven’t really done at all. Recently, I got an email being like, ‘Hey, by the way, you have $30 points left,’ and at that point, I was like, okay, I guess I have to start budgeting now. Now, I have about $15 left.”

Some students do not check their point balances, and swipe with no inclination of how many they started with or how many they are left with. OneCard has a system in place that sends students a warning email to inform them of their low point balances upon reaching $50. From this point, they will be sent additional emails every time they swipe that informs them of their total point balance until it is depleted. OneCard also has ways for students to check their balances for themselves, requiring students to manually go onto the GET website or the OneCard Center (links for both are available on the Dash) to get their real time point balances.

Hoshino believes that the functionality of this is questionable, matching the sentiments of many students who find this system inadequate in that the constant email reminders are unnecessary.

“I guess they’re helpful in some respects. I kind of wish that I knew how fast I was spending because, when you’re warned at $50 and you already have your set schedule, you get that warning, and you have to change everything so dramatically. That can kind of mess things up. Also, you get them at 2 a.m. Not really helpful,” Hoshino said.

Kings offers a suggestion to remedy the email situation.

“The current email warnings don’t really alleviate the stress of knowing that you’re not going to have points by the end of the semester. So, [maybe it would help] if they put a system in place where email notifications were more spread out and happened possibly sooner, maybe in increments of $50 or of $100,” said Kings.

Budgeting was not a problem for Kings, she said, because she calculated how many swipes and points she could use on a weekly basis, which is very much the same tactic that Wallach Hanson employed. He had suggestions for bettering student budgeting habits.

“Displaying point balances instantaneously [as done in previous years] was convenient, and I don’t see why they couldn’t have that.” Wallach Hanson said. “If it’s not this huge costly thing, I think it would be a good thing to bring back. Also, someone has already made it so that you can go to the OneCard website and see how much you can spend per week … if that program was more widely available for students, I think that would be beneficial for them.”

The college is working on creating a OneCard app to help alleviate this problem. The app would allow students to check their balance on their phones. They are hoping to have the app go live by the end of the academic year.

Navigating the meal plan system is a learning process for students of all class years. Adjustments to the new system may come with time as OneCard and Swarthmore receive feedback, so its functionality will likely be fixed.

Co-Op pricing explained by business model

in News by

The new OneCard system means more students than ever are shopping in the Ville, which includes the local grocery store, the Swarthmore Cooperative Community Food Market commonly referred to as the “Co-Op.” The grocery store carries items like those at Whole Foods, privileging organic and high-quality over low-price and high quantity, unlike most grocery stores. Unlike Whole Foods, the business has a long history and is truly locally owned and operated. Though students appreciate the convenience and quality the Co-Op provides, many complain about the Co-Op’s pricing, which is significantly higher than those at regular grocery stores.

The Co-Op was founded in 1937 by Swarthmore Borough community members as a way to pool resources to buy food during the Great Depression. Originally, the store was located near where Aria’s Restaurant is now, but it changed to its new, expanded location in the 1990s. The store is owned by over 700 members, who, in return for membership fees get discounts and are involved in decision making at the Co-Op. The Co-Op can only exists in a low traffic area like the Ville because of its business model, which emphasizes serving its members over profits.

This business model also contributes to higher prices. The Co-op sells ready-made sandwiches for around $7.00, a gallon of milk for $4.49, a dozen at eggs, $2.59, and cans of organic black beans for $2.69. A hamburger costs $3.25 in Essies, and the average price for a gallon of milk costs $2.69. The average price of a dozen eggs is $1.66, and in most grocery stores, a can  of beans costs around $1.00. This means the Co-Op has around a 100 percent mark-up for these basic items.

The Swarthmore Co-Op is an official cooperative business, meaning it is partly owned by the customer. This business model has gained popularity throughout the United States in the last couple of years. In general cooperatives aim to provide a healthy working environment and help the local economy.

Business leader of the Co-Op Dawn Betts explained that the high quality and low quantity of goods (relative to other grocery stores) that the Co-op purchases, combined with the economics of the grocery business, leads to the high cost at the Co-Op.

“Local co-ops such as ours are challenged to sell a volume of goods that allow us to negotiate low prices with our vendors and wholesalers.  The smaller a grocery store’s volume, the higher the price that’s paid for goods at the wholesale level. Our labor costs are a bit higher, too, since we have a commitment to the Swarthmore area community to provide reasonable wages and benefits … Our Co-Op is also dedicated to sourcing produce and other products from local providers,” said Betts.  

She explained further that, in the grocery business profit margins are extremely slim because of the competitive nature of the business, and the pressure from large grocery stores like Sam’s Club, which can provide economies of scale-cost savings that the smaller Co-Op cannot. Betts also said that the Co-Op was not run primarily to make profit.

The store was not always the only grocery store in the Borough. In the 1980s, there was a Giant in the Ville where the Co-Op is now. The Giant’s low prices and larger selection nearly drove the Co-Op out of business in the 1980s until the Giant burned down in the late 1980s.

Students acknowledge the Co-Op’s convenience, but say the high prices are noticeable.

“It’s obviously expensive but that it wouldn’t be that much of a burden if there was a suitable alternative where you could get groceries within walking distance. It the fact that it’s the only option is what makes its priciness seem extra evident,” said Anna Marfleet ’19.

Other students echoed Marfleet’s sentiments.

“It’s cool but expensive as heck,” said Mohammad Boozarjomehri, ’19.

Despite the Co-Op’s high prices, its unparalleled convenience meanS students will likely be shopping there for years to come. Target also provides a relatively nearby food dispensary for students to buy groceries, but it is much farther and does not provide as many boutique, luxury items as the Co-Op and does not currently accept the OneCard. It remains to be seen if the Co-Op will change pricing because of increased student demand resulting from the OneCard System.

Vicky’s Place: A Prime Place for Breakfast

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Breakfast has traditionally been lauded as the most important meal of the day, and it’s impossible for me to feel fully refreshed after waking up until I’ve eaten breakfast. I often stand with breakfast hardliner Leslie Knope who wondered “Why would anyone ever eat anything other than breakfast food?” While JJ’s Diner unfortunately doesn’t exist outside of fictional Pawnee, Indiana, the borough of Swarthmore thankfully has its own breakfast spot worthy of praise. With the OneCard now being accepted at Vicky’s Place as of the beginning of this semester, there is no longer a reason to skip breakfast on the weekends.. Vicky’s Place shares Dartmouth street with other OneCard-accepting restaurants like Aria and Bamboo Bistro and is the perfect way to start a weekend morning.

Often busy on weekend mornings, Vicky’s Place is a cozy local diner full of good food and charm. Sassy signs decorate the interior and give the restaurant a unique and comfortable atmosphere. The decorative quotes, ranging from classics like “Be nice or leave”, to more specific jests like “In God We Trust, everyone else pays cash,” inside Vicky’s Place made me feel like I was eating inside a calmer and more realistic version of a Pinterest board. The dining room itself is small, and the tables and chairs are very close together. A large mirror on the main wall gives the illusion of spaciousness, but you still might bump into the person at the table sitting behind you. The size of the room is not a drawback, however, as it facilitates the cozy atmosphere, as well as casual banter with fellow diners. Vicky’s Place maintains the classic neighborhood diner vibe, and the casual ambiance makes eating breakfast at Vicky’s Place perfect for unwinding on a Saturday morning after a long week of classes. The restaurant smells of pancakes, and the sizzle of eggs and bacon are audible over the conversation of others, making it the perfect place for Swatties to relax and regroup their thoughts over omelettes and coffee.

For breakfast, Vicky’s Place offers the standard breakfast essentials. Their menu includes pancakes, omelettes, eggs, and various breakfast sandwiches. Pumpkin pancakes are also available for those with a soft spot for autumn. What makes a good pancake, however, is not its seasonal charm. A good pancake is warm and fluffy and reminds me of having brunch with my family after church on Sunday mornings, and the ones at Vicky’s Place do just that. The blueberry hotcakes perfectly straddled the fine line between melt-in-your-mouth and undercooked, and the blueberries themselves were flavorful and tasted fresh. Eggs and toast, one of the most traditional breakfast dishes, is also done well. The toast arrived at the table in a red basket and reminded me of all the pieces of toast I ate on the morning bus in high school;  the warmth and perfect crispness of the slices reminded me that riding the bus wasn’t so bad, since in a way it brought me to Swarthmore. Of course, the toast arrived alongside eggs prepared sunny-side-up, and Vicky’s Place executes the combination perfectly. Their homefries are a delicious side dish that adds a dimension to both the flavor of the meal and the debate over whether or not they make sense as breakfast food. Potatoes are transformed from a lowly spud into warm and savory bites of deliciousness that satiate and impress, though I still vote no. The breakfast at Vicky’s Place is one of the top choices for Swatties on weekend mornings, but for those who sleep through their breakfast hours, they have a lunch menu as well.

Vicky’s Place easily earns a spot as one of the best places to use points to eat off-campus. I took my grandparents to Vicky’s Place when they came to visit me, and sharing the restaurant with them meant showing off a little piece of what makes Swarthmore home. The restaurant offers delicious food, and its addition to the OneCard makes it truly an off campus dimension of the campus experience. The experience is enjoyable and quick, one can get from campus and back again within 45 minutes having had a delicious and filling meal. There is something great, almost magical, about good breakfast food, and Vicky’s Place has it. As the weather turns cold and the walk to the Ville seems more and more daunting, warm pancakes and omelettes at Vicky’s Place will still be more than worth the trip.

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